New Online Ads Can't Be Missed

by Jun 25, 2001, 12:00 AM
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(AP) - Out of nowhere they appear and quickly sweep across your computer screen. Sometimes unstoppable and often annoying, the aggressiveness of some Internet ads has some consumers threatening never to buy from companies using them.

"The first time, an ad may be cute to look at, but after the 10th time, it sure isn't," said Mike Pollock, a 36-year-old New Yorker who spends as many as eight hours a day online.

The last year has been a bumpy one for online advertising. The slowing economy and failure of many dot-com businesses have significantly dampened revenue growth, and many established companies cut back their online ad budgets.

"The industry is going through a tough time, and many sites are lucky to sell a fraction of their ad space," said Patrick Keane, senior analyst at Jupiter Media Matrix, a New York-based online consulting and tracking firm. "As a result, people are willing to push the creative envelope a bit."

X10 Wireless Technology Inc. did just that with a relentless ad campaign for its tiny $80 wireless video camera.

When a user goes to one of the many sites where X10 advertises, its ad immediately opens underneath the browser. When the browser is later closed, the ad appears and the user is forced to close it separately.

Virtually overnight, the "pop-under" campaign made X10 a recognized name.

According to the online research firm NielsenNetRatings, the company had 388,000 unique visitors to its Web site in January. Nielsen, which estimates that X10's pop-under campaign began in late winter, said the number of unique visitors in May was 3.5 million.

Yet not everyone is thrilled with X10's practices. Internet chat rooms buzz with angry Web users who want to know how to disengage the ad. Numerous articles have been written on ways to make the ads go away. Even the company's Web site informs consumers how to turn off the ad for 30 days at a time.

X10 did not return e-mail and phone requests from The Associated Press for comment.

"It is a tightrope they are walking on," said Peggy O'Neill, an analyst at NielsenNetRatings in Milpitas, Calif. "They have made a name for themselves in a short hurry, and that's impressive. But there is also a backlash out there of people who despise these ads and think less of the brand."

Pollock is fed up with X10 ads, which he quickly tries to close without giving them even a glance. "I think I am fairly certain that I would never buy anything from X10."

Web surfers can use software tools to block these ads from popping up on their screens. Consumer advocates, however, say that the onus should not be on computer users to take such action.

Pop-under ads aren't the only new formats being spotted online. Last month, Ford Motor Co. launched an ad that basically took over Yahoo!'s home page. When the first page loaded, animated birds perched on Ford's banner ad began to fly around the screen before eating away at birdseed to reveal an ad for the automaker's new Explorer.

The ad was only available on May 4, but Yahoo said that more creative ads are likely to appear in the months ahead.

Growing in popularity are ads, sometimes known as "shoshkeles," which look like cartoons floating over text and pictures. Such ads have been used by a wide range of companies, including Monster.com and Domino's pizza. One ad for airline JetBlue Airways featured a picture of one of its planes "flying" over the Web site Travelguys.net.

Also being seen more often are "superstitial" ads, which load into a computer's temporary memory while a user is viewing a web page and appears instantly when the person clicks to another page on the same site.

New York-based Unicast, which developed the technology, has seen a rapid increase in interest, especially by traditional marketers looking to improve their promotions online. The company's business has grown fivefold every quarter since September, said Allie Shaw, vice president of global marketing.

Interactive Advertising Bureau, the trade group that represents Web publishers and marketers, is monitoring consumer response to the new ad formats.

Robin Webster, IAB's president, said online advertising "is hardly tried and true. It is not TV. We haven't had 40 years to figure it out ... We have to be willing to try new things."

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