AOL and Pop-ups - Which Side Are They On?

by , Oct 28, 2002, 12:00 AM
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AOL’s recent ban on third party pop-ups is interesting. It smells like a big sell-out. I am not going to comment on the good or bad of pop-ups. There has been enough of that in these columns. What I am going to talk about today is the double-sided aspect of the AOL announcement.

Third party? First of all, this means that there will still be pop-ups on AOL. But only from AOL Time Warner products and services. This is about as two-faced as you can get. If they really believed that pop-ups were bad, they would ban them completely from their site, right? And what about the use of pop-ups by various AOL Time Warner companies in their advertising? Notice that they did not take a stand on this.

So, maybe it is not that they feel that pop-ups are bad. Maybe they feel that they are effective if not overdone. It will be interesting to see if the AOL Time Warner use of pop-ups on their own properties increases or decreases. One has to wonder if they just could not get enough of their own inventory.

I am not questioning that pop-ups need to be reigned in. Any advertiser that does not put a frequency cap of one impression on a pop-up unit across all sites is just plain crazy and uninformed. And, despite my previous column on this topic, there are now technologies in place that can accomplish this. The potential consumer backlash when you show multiple pop-ups, which are the same to a single consumer site after site, is not worth it. Sites should be doing the same thing. Once they serve a pop-up in a session, no additional uses of this creative should be served. From any advertiser or for themselves. It just makes sense to control the potential problem.

But AOL has built their business on the cross sell through use of pop-ups. And the advertising on AOL, pop-ups and banners both, for Time Warner magazines has effectively replaced Publisher’s Clearing House and other outmoded older subscription promotion methods. And, if you go to a Time Inc. magazine site, you will probably get an AOL8 pop-up or one for some Time Inc. publication either on entry, exit or sometimes both.

So, I keep wondering. Was this a commitment by AOL Time Warner towards higher standards, as they would have us believe from their press release? Or was it a convenient way to grab some cheap publicity on a big Internet hot button. Let’s keep watching and find out.

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