Pop Goes The Weasel

I guess the moratorium on press about the pop-up is over.

In the last two weeks this publication’s parent ran two stories about some recent research about pop-ups and attitudes towards them. Both stories were related to essentially the same piece of research, however –- a recently released Gartner G2 study that basically concluded that pop-ups are “really annoying.”

Yup. That’s right. Most consumers don’t seem to like them. Who’d a thunk it?

Data from this report, which was a distillation of a survey about pop-up ads, state that more than 78% of those asked find pop-ups to be “very annoying.” 43% of those surveyed say that Unicast-like interstitials are “very annoying.”

Yet other data show that the use of a pop-up ad format, in toto, is on the rise, with 3.8 billion impressions having run against this type of unit in December ’02 versus 1.2 billion in January ’02.

Before I go on, let me just remind you, gentle reader, that I was chastised in the not-too-distant past for my position on pop-ups, which I had expressed in this very space. My conclusion about them was and still is that yes, they are annoying, but I am sympathetic to their existence. I was called things like ‘moron,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘uninsightful,’ and even a term from the UK referencing a female body part. It got so that I’d retained a squad of bomb-sniffing dogs to check my mail and a food taster to test the brochette served at any random industry function I might be attending. It is my sincerest hope that I don’t yet again solicit the kind of vitriol I did last time around.



So, be that as it may…

Is there anything new to be known here regarding pop-up/under advertising?

The Gartner report concludes that because so many people find them annoying perhaps sites should simply do away with all things ‘pop.’

Is this true? I’d really like to know the questions that were asked the survey group. As is often times the case, one of the problems with survey data is that the context of the query can dramatically affect the response one gets. “Do you like fire?,” can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on if the context is “keeping warm” versus “My house has burned down.”

Things I’d like to know are: If you had to pay for content, would you accept some form of pop-up as an alternative (similar to the deal that ran recently)? Is it the pop-ups themselves that bother you or the number of them that bothers you?

And just what are we talking about when we say “pop-up?” A story that ran in this past Tuesday’s MediaDailyNews referred to the Gartner G2 December 2002 report making the point that there is no distinction in monitoring pop-ups or pop-unders (nor do any of the companies monitoring this kind of activity distinguish between pop-ups, unders, or any other form of free-floating format ad units like Superstitials or Eyeblaster), and if we are going to tell the public that the public doesn’t like pop-ups, we should be specific about just what kind of ad we are really talking about.

From where I sit – which these days is in front of my computer with an afghan crocheted by my sister wrapped around my shoulders while I freeze in my Midtown Manhattan apartment – it isn’t the free-floating format that offends, but the type and frequency with which they occur.

Do I know who Orbitz is? Damn straight. Do I hate the water torture frequency with which their ads occur as I move about the Web? You bet.

But like direct mail, it keeps on coming because -- lo and behold! – it must work.

When efficiency and/or volumetric analyses are done, I’ve got to believe that Orbitz’s strategy is paying out. If it wasn’t, I’m sure we’d stop getting their ads every time we click to a new page on the Web.

It looks like we are pretty much confronted with annoying and enraging the masses versus the efficacy of the tactics deployed.

In the long run companies may be looking at Pyrrhic victories when using the ol’ pop-up/under/over tool. Short-term goals can be met, but the construction of a brand to last is being nullified. Brand awareness is one thing. But what’s the good of having everyone know who you are and hate you?

When all is said and done, guess what, folks? Ads that obstruct our chosen view of content bug the hell out of us. No one, and I mean NO ONE, likes them. Particularly as most occurrences of this form of advertising are without relevance and context. But it is becoming increasingly clear that just saying people don’t like pop-ups isn’t good enough, as they are an increasing presence in our Internet lives. We need to start making the more nuanced distinction about what we do like, what we don’t like, what works, and what doesn’t. No one I know likes bad advertising, regardless of whether they think it is annoying. Maybe we should focus on making good advertising while we are worrying about how not to be annoying.

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