Mommy, Where Do Pop-Ups Come From?

There is something that’s been bothering me for quite some time now. No, it isn’t the sound of the war drum that the Bush administration is beating. It isn’t Bloomberg’s proposed smoking ban for bars and restaurants. It isn’t even the irreconcilability of Cartesian dualism or the geopolitical significance of Macedonia.

Okay. Bloomberg’s smoking ban for bars and restaurants does bother me. But this isn’t what I’m here to talk about.

It has to do with pop-up inventory. On a discussion list I belong to, a member recently asked the question: are publishers “double-dipping” when they sell pop-ups or pop-unders to advertisers? What is meant by this, I assumed, was: are publishers essentially charging twice for ad inventory that is really only being generated once? There is the sale to the advertiser placing an ad on media within the site, then a second sale to the advertiser running the pop-up/pop-under on that same media.

This reminded me of thoughts I’d had about the origin of ad inventory when pop-ups and pop-unders first started to proliferate the online media environment. Just where does ad inventory for pop-ups come from? Is it actually “real” ad inventory, or is it more like taxi zone pricing, where each passenger pays the same whether there are 2 or 10 people in the vehicle, regardless of destination?



If you think about it, pop-ups/unders are simply extra images associated with a single page of content. Difference between these ad units and additional banners on a page is that they get their own window.

But then what should this mean to the pricing of advertising inventory? Should advertisers paying for in-page ad units pay less than those who want pop-ups? After all, there is no question that the addition of larger and more arresting advertising units dilute the impact of the in-page units. Shouldn’t this inventory, then, be discounted if the publisher is going to ride pop-ups with that page, too?

A further question raised here, of course, is that of the value of one kind of impression versus another kind of impression. This question is an important question and an answerable question.

There is no doubt that different impressions have different values. This is certainly the case in offline media, as the cost of impressions for, say, the Prime Time daypart, tends to be greater than that of impressions from a Weekend Daytime daypart. Or, a better comparison might be the impressions of one media are valued differently than those impressions of another media. Outdoor impressions are not priced anywhere near to those of Print.

The criteria and conditions for valuation of online impressions are certainly different than they are for other media – temporal allocations of advertising that follows the temporal allocation of programming, for instance, does not have analogy in online. But a means of media inventory valuation can be established. Attention level and noticing value impact are important to consider when putting value against an ad placement. Ad inventory that is perceived as having more value should certainly be priced higher.

But I still wonder… where do pop-ups come from? What inventory, really, lends to their existence? Isn’t the inventory sold to the advertiser who was looking for in-site placement already paying for the audience that comes to the site? Maybe publishers should do away with the banners ON the site and only run pop-ups/unders AT the site.

We don’t have this problem in other media because other media have material and terrestrial limitations. For example, there are only a finite number of pages a magazine is going to have and only so much that will be put on one, physical page. In television, only ONE 30-second spot can run at 8:36:30 PM.

The pop-ups/unders are ads that live as a result of advertiser desire meeting with a publisher’s ability to manipulate their audience’s browsers. So what, then, are advertisers who are buying more standard inventory really paying for? The audience they wanted is being distracted with more intrusive advertising formats purchased by other, sometimes competing advertisers. This certainly affects the value of the intended audience. Should these advertisers be reimbursed? Should they receive makegoods for all impressions served at the same time as a pop-up?

I don’t wish to suggest some kind of indictment of the pop-up/under phenomenon. I’ve bought pop-ups myself and find them to be terribly effective. But I am curious to know just what I’m paying for if I buy standard inventory on a site that also offers pop-up inventory. Just where the heck did that pop-up come from?

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