Can You Take One More Column On Pop-Ups?

“They work.”

That’s the response you’ll get from most online DR folks when you ask them to justify the onslaught of pop-up ads out there on the web.

By that logic, I can use a bazooka to take out the housefly buzzing around my living room. Sure it works, but I can find plenty of other ways to get the job done without causing so much collateral damage.

Truth is, there’s not much that one can object to about the pop-up or pop-under formats. What consumers object to is not the format itself, but the uncapped frequency and the irrelevance of the message. I could have my apartment wired up like Jim Carrey’s place in “The Truman Show” and X-10 will continue to lob scores of pop-ups at me, blissfully unaware that my camera needs have been fulfilled.

The two most annoying things about the web (IMHO spam and untargeted, uncapped pop-ups) operate on the broadcast model. That is, the marketing folks behind them don’t seem to care about awareness levels, effective frequency, or being exceptionally annoying, as long as the orders keep rolling in. But can we expect this to continue?



Putting aside the spam issue for a minute, my prediction is that web inventory is going to soon become a lot more valuable. My column last week covered Tacoda and the notion of software systems that can help publishers segment their audiences. When systems like Tacoda’s take hold, I think we’ll start to see the value of inventory escalate. This will make it a lot tougher for online DR advertisers to run huge, untargeted campaigns at low CPCs and CPAs.

But will the days of pop-up campaigns be gone forever? Doubtful. Pop-up advertisers will have to move from the broadcast model to one in which they test various audiences to find the most effective media venues. Or maybe they’ll move to lower-tier sites that won’t be using audience analysis tools. We probably won’t know for a couple years.

What is clear, however, is that the potential exists for what gets sold today as remnant inventory to turn into valuable targeted inventory. We’ve come to target advertising by content and contextual relevance, but what we haven’t yet done in any significant way is to reach people with an interest in a specific piece of content elsewhere on the web. When this challenge is addressed, ad inventory that goes unsold or is sold off cheaply to DR advertisers will have relevance to advertisers seeking a specific audience. This will increase its value such that publishers will more profitable ads to run in the slots that are today granted to DR advertisers.

The model is moving toward selling a targeted audience, and away from selling untargeted impressions. Perhaps the evolution of the model is the best pop-up zapper on the market.

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