Pop-Up Alternatives

Last week’s piece cited recent news pop-ups cause consumers to mistrust associated brands. A number of marketers says they don’t see a way around using the format in their campaigns. “Our clients demand the format,” they insist. “It’s cheap, proven to generate leads, and produces solid ROI repeatedly.”

Their case is a simple one: Pop-ups outperform every other online ad format. They realize associating their clients with pop-ups could damage the brands. But when a format works, you’d be surprised how many marketers and advertisers are willing to take that risk.

Listening, one realizes there are two types of media buyers. There are those who represent Fortune 500 firms. Their duty is to promote trusted brand names online. Some may say these marketers have it easy. On the one hand, failure to meet the elevated standards of these clients (whose business single-handedly supports a good many agencies) could result in being blacklisted from this elite community. On the other, working with familiar and trusted brands vastly increases the likelihood of marketing success.

Then there are those who represent the hundreds of independent advertisers promoting products online. The majority of online media buyers fall into this category. These marketers can attract big budgets, too. They plan and buy for online travel services, casinos, office supply companies, and the like. But unlike their counterparts, they don’t have the luxury of promoting established brands. These planners and buyers aren’t often asked to develop branding campaigns. Their decisions and actions are entirely driven by sales, and their clients can’t easily absorb campaign blunders.

It’s the latter group that continues to be drawn to pop-ups, a format heavily relied on to buttress campaigns and used to fall back on should they somehow hit the skids. When representing clients less concerned with brand image, these individuals are more inclined to blanket the Web with millions of untargeted, uncapped ads — a bad habit that’s loathed by all.

To these media buyers and marketers, pop-ups are an addiction. What advocates need is an alternative that produces results without the inherent risks (and without irritating the rest of the online community in the process). These marketers have fruitfully used pop-ups for so long, few believe such an option exists. Here’s what some of the top ad networks recommend to these die-hards.


In the infamous Advertising.com study that named pop-ups 14 times more effective at generating conversions than standard banners, one format was found to produce even more stellar results: skyscraper ads. According to the study, skyscrapers boasted a CTR 60 percent higher than banners and a 20 percent better conversion rate. Part of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB’s) Universal Ad Package, skyscrapers are carried by virtually all major sites and ad networks. Many publishers offer them on a cost-per-action basis, making them a cost-effective option for marketers with limited budgets.


The less-intrusive cousin of the pop-up, the pop-under is still touted as an “incredibly effective format” when used responsibly. It’s one of the eight formats offered by Fastclick (pop-ups didn’t make the cut). According to Jeff Hirsch, the network’s chief revenue officer and IAB Task Force member, it’s experiencing “unprecedented demand.”

The price at which Fastclick offers pop-unders — rate card cost of $7 CPM — is higher than the average pop-up. Hirsch says it’s known to produce good return on investment (ROI). The secret is strict quality control. Fastclick only delivers one pop-under per user per browser session. They try to introduce new creative to users every week. This effort to avoid inundating consumers with ads is what Hirsch believes makes the format work. “There is some association between pop-ups and pop-unders, and some concern about negative brand association,” he says. “Then again, some of the largest brands became that way by using pop-under ads.”

Word is the IAB plans to release a new set of standards for both pop-under and pop-up ads in upcoming months.

Customized Combination

When asked about replacing pop-ups, Colin Petrie-Norris, director of product with Advertising.com, admits “there’s no silver bullet that can replace pop-ups that we know about.” His network has come up with the next best thing. When approached by a client who wants results without pop-ups, Advertising.com recommends a combination of formats customized to each advertiser’s needs.

Without the pop-up option, Petrie-Norris says he must “be more thoughtful in the design of creatives to reach each objective.” Incorporating interactivity, interstitials, and rich media into campaigns is an oft-used approach. Knowing larger formats work well, large skyscrapers are used, too. As a network almost exclusively composed of cost-per-action (CPA) advertising, Advertising.com can practically guarantee results regardless of format, even without pop-ups to fall back on.

Pop-ups may be matchlessly effective, but not everything that tastes good is good for you. Consider expanding beyond the pop-up. You may just find something that works.

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