Research Behind the Numbers: Pop-Up Ads

In a study designed to explore consumers’ attitudes toward advertising as a necessary means of subsidizing free content on the web, a Dynamic Logic report concludes that, despite the distracting nature of advertising, the fact that 85 percent of the respondents agreed illustrates the value of free online content to the consumer. And, a separate study by Cyveillance, an Internet services consulting firm, found that almost one out of three of the largest websites in the United States are using pop-up and pop-under technologies to make it difficult for visitors to avoid online advertising.

So, how is this type of pervasive, and sometimes intrusive, advertising perceived by the consumer? Because it is likely that people will always prefer less advertising to more, Dynamic Logic sought to explore consumers’ relative attitudes toward different forms of advertising, and more specifically, how consumers felt about pop-ups. The study, a spokesperson warns, is "not a definitive study of all ad formats, but it serves as a snapshot of relative acceptance."

The results indicate that consumers put pop-ups roughly on par with TV ads and direct mail in terms of relative desirability. Telemarketing and direct mail are less desirable than pop-ups, while print, radio, and billboard advertising are more desirable forms of advertising. With pop-up ads as a zero baseline, 0.5 percent of the respondents found TV to be less desirable than the intrusive (pop-up) online ad format. Telemarketing fared the worst, with more than 11 percent of those surveyed preferring pop-up ads to phone solicitations. These findings should not be misinterpreted to suggest that pop-ups, TV, and direct mail are equally effective with consumers. But it is possible, says the study, that respondents view pop-ups as comparable to other forms of advertising in terms of intrusiveness and desirability.

Seventy-two percent of the respondents feel some pop-ups are appropriate to support a website they liked. Though 28 percent feel there should be none, and only 6 percent have "positive feelings" toward the format, the mean acceptable number is 3 per hour. Most consumers agreed that "advertising is necessary to support the websites I like to visit and keep them free, even if the ads distract me from what I am doing." That result, the report concludes, demonstrates that consumers recognize value in online content.

Charles Buchwalter, vice president of media research at Jupiter Media Metrix, said that since "pop-up ads have an increasing presence on the web, we feel it’s a legitimate way of tracking what people are doing on the web."

However, the Nielsen/NetRatings measurement company says many people click through pop-ups accidentally, and including such clicks in traffic counts could skew results. Tamara Gaffney, senior product manager, says, "The reason (we have deviated from Media Metrix’s strategy) is because we don’t believe that it accurately reflects where the user had intended to visit—and further, it clearly changes the demographic profile of the site."

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