Study: Pop-Ups Not So Prevalent

Just a handful of companies are responsible for the bulk of pop-up and -under ads, but they’re also responsible for the considerable controversy surrounding the format, according to new findings from Nielsen//NetRatings .

The research from NetRatings’ AdRelevance unit suggests that 9.2 percent of all online advertisers use pop-up-like type ads. A total of 2,165 companies purchased 11.3 billion pop-up and -under ad impressions during the first seven months of the year — although 80 percent of those ads came from only 63 of those advertisers.

While some might feel that pop-ups and pop-unders are omnipresent, they represent just 2 percent of all ads served from January to July.

Logically, that stands to reason: many mass-market sites like portals, search engines and e-tailers cap their pop-ups to just a couple per sessions, if they use the format at all. As a result, the ads comprise just a fraction of ad inventory. (Narrow-interest sites, such as community, gaming and yellow pages plays, on the other hand, are more likely to have pop-up and -under ads comprising more than two percent of their inventory, NetRatings found.)

But Web surfers’ displeasure with the format — as evinced by decisions by WebCrawler and iVillage to cease using the ads based on user feedback — easily has less to do with the number of popping ads they receive than the fact that pop-ups and pop-unders aren’t as easily-ignored as other formats.

Several studies, including a recent survey conduced by Boston-based BURST! Media, have found that Web surfers ignore ads on sites they feel are “cluttered” with advertising. As a result, as publishers add inventory to their sites to increase ad revenue — NetRatings has tracked a 77 percent increase in inventory from a year ago — sites are also increasing the likelihood that visitors ignore more of their ads, except for pop-ups and -under, which require some level of user interaction (to close, if anything).

“Pop-ups quickly gained notoriety since their introduction in early 2001, with the ads attracting negative feedback from Internet surfers,” said Charles Buchwalter, vice president of client analytics at NetRatings. “Consumers may be surprised to find out that pop-up advertising comprises such a small percent of the total ad market.”

A majority of the pop-up ads served this year — 58 percent, or 6.5 million — were aimed at driving click-through traffic to the advertiser’s Web site, AdRelevance found. Efforts to drive sales using the formats accounted for about 26 percent of all pop-up impressions, or 2.9 million. About 1.9 million pop-up impressions — about 17 percent — were fielded to increase brand awareness or to impact brand positioning.

Direct marketing and sales efforts, on the other hand, comprise a smaller portion of overall online advertising inventory, AdRelevance said — roughly 64 percent.

Longtime pop-up and -under advertiser X10.com continues to be the most prolific user of the ad format, having bought more than a billion ads thus far this year. Web travel site Orbitz and Providian Bank come in as the distant second- and third-largest advertisers, after having purchased 687 million and 679 impressions, respectively.

Cendant Corp. , which operates properties including CheapTickets.com and Trip.com, bought 561 million impressions, while publishers served 548 million impressions on behalf of gambling site giant Cassava Enterprises (owner of Casino-On-Net, among others).

Other major pop-up and -under advertisers include Dell , Bonzi Software, Morgan Stanley and Columbia House, AdRelevance said.

“Despite consumers’ general distaste for the ads, a few advertisers clearly view the benefits of pop-up advertising as greater than the potential harm to brand image,” Buchwalter said, adding that this demand, coupled with sites’ bowing to consumer pressure to restrict usage of the ads, suggests that ultimately, “the continuing negativity surrounding pop-ups will lead to new ad designs that are less intrusive and more responsive to consumer expectations.”

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