Pop-Up Ads, Part 2: Usage Guidelines for Legitimate Marketers

In part one of my look at pop-up advertising, I noted some of the many issues that have marketers questioning how this format can be successfully incorporated into their online campaigns. Through research and testing, media buyers have developed some solid theories, which can be summarized in a few basic rules. How you choose to apply them is up to you.

Arguably the most important of these rules, and one few marketers will refute, is that consumers are much more tolerant of pop-ups delivered in limited doses. This was made clear by Dynamic Logic’s study, which confirmed Internet users are accepting pop-ups in “appropriate” quantities. For our own protection, pop-ups should come with a warning label reading, “Caution: Use in moderation.” Unless your client is an adult site, online casino, or an unknown mass-market advertiser unconcerned with garnering potentially negative attention, bombarding the Net with pop-ups is not the approach for you.

We probably didn’t need a study to tell us that seeing one or two pop-ups per hour is less annoying than arriving at a site to an onslaught of ads that take a good minute of clicking to get out of the way. If common logic and supporting research don’t convince you, take a look at X10’s reception. Its domination of the Net has lead inexperienced Internet users to actually fear the ads, wondering whether a virus is to blame for the sheer abundance. Although X10 continues to push its product with pop-unders, it’s posted an advertising information FAQ page on its site that defends its tactics by declaring its ads “100% safe” and “100% legal.” If that’s not a dead giveaway the company’s in damage-control mode, I don’t know what is.

Once you’ve made the decision to use pop-ups (in moderation, of course), the next question is whether incorporating them with other ad formats will maximize results. The general rule is mixing and matching ad formats is a must. Having been repeatedly exposed to these ads in quantity, many consumers are so accustomed to them, they now close pop-up windows instinctively. If you want to make certain you get their attention, you’re going to need back up. I recently saw a campaign for TUMS Cool Relief on recipe site epicurious. The campaign employed animated pop-ups in conjunction with vokens, or floating ads, and java-script “rollover” banners. All three ads were designed to grab attention, but the presence of less-intrusive banners ensured consumers would notice the campaign, even if they overlooked or avoided the vokens and pop-ups.

The fact that the more aggressive ads in this campaign were frequency-capped also makes a static placement essential. Consumers can be pretty reserved. It may take several viewings before they decide to investigate an advertiser’s site. By the time they do, they may not remember the URL. From a consumer’s point of view, it’s frustrating to go back to a site and be unable to locate the ad you want. From a marketer’s point of view, failing to leave a static placement behind can cost customers.

Finally, media buyers often question whether static or animated pop-ups produce the best results. Making the wrong decision can significantly impact a campaign. The theory has long been that animated ads are the only way to go: If we’ve got the technology, we may as well use it. Consumers now associate animated pop-ups with the unpopular advertisers that are flooding the Web. Since those advertisers rarely offer anything of interest, it’s natural that surfers assume other animated ads are equally deficient. Giving them something different can be the way to stand out.

A marketer at an online real estate broker found animation can do more harm than good. The company created two pop-unders, one static and copy-heavy, the other animated with only a brief ad message. After testing, it found that though the animated ad produced a higher click-through rate, clicks via the static ad produced more sales. It seemed serious home buyers were drawn by extensive information in the static ad. Were the clicks on the animated ad largely accidental? It’s possible. When the company added animation to the copy-heavy ad, results took a nose dive.

Maybe consumers are conditioned to associate animated pop-ups with dubious advertisers — the Web’s equivalent of late-night infomercials. Does the same fate await all pop-ups? Only time will tell. As long as we follow a few simple rules, we’ll be doing our part to prevent the pop-up’s death by misuse and abuse.

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