Pop-up vs. Pop-under: Researchers See No Difference

What’s the difference between pop-unders and pop-ups? That depends on whom you ask.

Online measurement and research firms see no difference at all. Ignoring this could prove detrimental to publishers and advertisers that run pop-ups (which load above the browser window) or pop-unders (which load behind the browser).

“I don’t think consumers know the difference between pop-unders and pop-ups,” opines Denise Garcia, media research director at GartnerG2. “They’re annoyed with a separate browser window being launched whether it’s above the page or below the page.”

“Consider ending the use of pop-ups,” proclaims GartnerG2’s December 2002 report, Unpopular Pop-Ups Won’t Stop, which found that 78.3% of those surveyed between July and August found pop-ups to be “very annoying.”

The pop-up format has been attacked by the press, pop-up blocking software, and in turn, publishers that have banned them including AOL, Earthlink and iVillage. According to the report, while 12% of the Internet population has downloaded ad blocking software, much of which guards against pop-ups exclusively, pop-up impressions soared to 4.9 billion in September of last year from 1.2 billion in January. That number has dropped to 3.8 billion in December 2002 according to Nielsen//NetRatings AdRelevance.

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Garcia believes the jump stems from higher click-through rates and prices garnered by pop-ups in comparison to banners. She cautions that increased usage of pop-up and pop-under units by advertisers and publishers “will come back to bite them.” Novice users may be deceived by subtle images in the ads that appear to close ad windows when they actually prompt click-through to the advertiser site. As users become more familiar with these types of ads and tactics, “we’ll see the click-through rate go down, ” prognosticates Garcia.

The use of pop-ups may even be generating a negative perception of online advertising as a whole. “Advertisers have been afraid to go online because of pop-ups,” suggests Allie Savarino, senior VP at Unicast, a company that champions the TV ad-like format, the interstitial.

Ever since its well-touted decision last July to banish them, iVillage no longer runs pop-ups. Despite this, the site ranked number 41 in AdRelevance’s list of “Sites Serving Popup Ads” last month, serving over 20 million impressions. (Netscape served the most: 270 million.) AdRelevance makes no distinction between the two formats.

iVillage does. “There’s a difference in terms of the user’s comfort zone,” contends Peter Naylor, VP, general manager of sales at iVillage. The distinction lies in the view-obstructing quality of pop-ups, he maintains. “The difference is up vs. down, white vs. black.”

The site, which is currently running pop-unders for Orbitz and LowerMyBills.com, caps pop-under reach and frequency to one impression per user/per day so as not to bombard visitors. iVillage hasn’t ruled out panning the pop-under in the future. “We’re evolving our ad model at least monthly if not more,” says Naylor.

“iVillage is not doing a service to their users; they’re actually misleading them,” argues Garcia. She suggests that advertisers use formats like Unicast’s in-between page Superstitial. According to the GartnerG2 report (which has no affiliation with Unicast), interstitials, or “the ones that open when a user goes from one Web page to another and disappear unless clicked on” annoyed only 43% of those surveyed.

“No one disagrees that advertising is annoying,” admits Savarino. “It’s the level to which it is acceptable that we have to come to agreement on. I think [the GartnerG2 report] moves that forward.”

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