Online Advertising Glossary: Interstitials

Last week we noted that interstitials were easy to recognize — they pop up uninvited as the screen is loading. But perhaps we assumed too much, as lots of email arrived asking for further clarification. Seems there are enough different variations that confusion still exists, so this week we’ll look into the range of “pop-up” ad choices, and what they mean for both the advertiser and the site that carries this ad form.

Interstitials have also been referred to as splash screens, pop-up windows, parent windows, daughter windows, child windows, intermercials, extramercials and transitionals. Whew!

Interstitials are more attention grabbing than banners, they offer more real estate, and they create an incremental inventory source for publishers. It’s been said they’re effective for branding, building traffic and conducting transactions. But they can also be annoying and misunderstood.

According to What Is?com, “An interstitial (something ‘in between’) is a page that is inserted in the normal flow of editorial content structure on a Web site for the purpose of advertising or promotion. It can be more or less intrusive, and the reaction of viewers usually depends on how welcome or entertaining the message is. An interstitial is usually designed to move automatically to the page the user requested after allowing enough time for the message to register or the ad(s) to be read.”

The Blue Platypus gives this definition: “The interstitial advertisement is one that loads in the narrow space between a page being requested and the page being loaded. There are two principal types of interstitial advertisements: the pop-up interstitial and the inline interstitial. Each of them serves a different function, and there are occasions for both to be used in a single download.”

We found other definitions, all pretty similar. The key to an interstitial, then, is the root word meaning a narrow opening. All interstitials have in common the use of unused space and time online, where an ad is shown while the user is waiting for the next expected action.

The advantage is that the ad creative uses “dead time” to show an ad message, at a time when the site visitor is on hold and attentive to the message that appears.

Another advantage of interstitial ads is their ability to incorporate sound and video. Many sites that accept interstitial ads can take them in a form reminiscent of TV ads.

But there are some downsides. Users often don’t understand that the interstitial they see on their screen while they’re waiting for a page to load is using “dead time”; instead, there’s a tendency to think the interstitial is slowing the arrival of the page they’ve requested. And this translates to annoyed users — users, moreover, who might “blame” the product or service advertised for their annoyance!

A second drawback to consider is that interstitial ads can attract a lot of attention, but do not always generate a large number of clicks. It’s that “branding” vs. “direct response” issue again. If an ad’s effectiveness is going to be evaluated on the basis on click-throughs, interstitials may not be the best vehicle to sell an advertiser.

If, however, your goal is awareness and branding, an interstitial may be the ideal choice. Defining your goals in advance is essential to ad-selling sites if you intend to have happy repeat customers.

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