Pop Culture

I often receive email from readers complaining about “annoying” forms of online advertising. News flash: I, too, believe many ads can be annoying. Nothing insults our practice more than advertising for the sake of advertising. No, I won’t go into another back-to-the basics drill. Nor will I waste time being defensive about negative press written about our industry. Online or off-, there’s a lot of bad advertising out there.

iVillage announced July 29, it would not longer accept pop-up ads on its properties. I was shocked to see many of my counterparts in the media world deem this a grandiose announcement. Some went so far as to call it heroic. Though I’m a fan and long-term advertiser on the site, I have my doubts about its decision.

Nancy Evans, iVillage editor-in-chief, told CBS MarketWatch, “We have built iVillage (IVIL) by listening to what women want, and our move to eliminate pop-up advertising is a direct example of this.”

I firmly believe iVillage knows “what women want.” However, this seems a bit reactive. I put my consumer hat on, opened my browser, and started surfing the site. I did this several times over three days. To my dismay, my sessions were choked with pop-ups. In every case, the advertisers had nothing to do with my mindset or the content on the pages or the categories I was in. They disrupted my experience. I recalled some advertisers, creating negative brand awareness.

First, let me just say I don’t want to be known as the defender of the free world of pop-ups. But I think iVillage is only half correct in its decision. This ad unit can be powerful and an asset to a brand when used appropriately. Publishers should accept such ads — but within guidelines.

It’s not my style to complain about something without taking a stab at a potential solution, so here goes.

The top five rules for pop-up advertising are:

  • Don’t interrupt a user.

  • Don’t be sneaky. Make it easy to close the ad, view it, or get to the content on the page.
  • Consider the contextual relevance of a pop-up when placing the ad.
  • Publishers should limit pop-ups by using frequency caps.
  • Be mindful of clutter. Online consumers are exposed to over 600 marketing messages per day (Jupiter Media Metrix, 2001).

Sean Murphy of PC World shared his wisdom by saying, “I will say that how an advertiser uses them is critical in how they are interpreted: Be specific with a call to action, give the user something cool and/or meaningful to engage in, i.e., sweeps, etc., and don’t position something that isn’t contextually relevant… not much different from other formats.”

My dear friend Mary Bermel of HP said, “Brilliant creative and relevant, contextual messaging should elicit a response from our audiences, not insist they click on the close box.”

After speaking with publishers, salespeople, media folk, and clients, I found diverse response to the use of this form of advertising. The common thread was no one was aware of a universal definition of “pop-up.” With all the technology out there, no one seems to know what the heck a pop-up is anymore. I couldn’t find a reliable definition, so I pulled terminology from various sources and settled on this: A pop-up is an ad that suddenly appears (“pops up”) in the foreground of a Web page.

Unicast‘s Stu Ginsberg agrees. Though they don’t consider their technology to be pop-up, Stu assured me of the company’s sensitivity to the overall user experience.

Be it pop-ups or pop-unders, one thing is certain: Everyone I spoke with said misuse of pop-anythings have sullied online advertising’s reputation.

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