Up With Big Ads, Down With Pop-Ups

Memo to online advertisers: Keep pushing the envelope, as long as it’s in the right direction.

Yes, you’re going to make some people unhappy as you take up more of the screen with your Web ads. But even with larger advertising in place, the ads on the Internet are still a far less intrusive than television ads that hit viewers smack in the middle of a show.

Besides, those same people complaining about the ads aren’t ready to pay for content, so bring on the ads.

Just make sure they don’t pop up.

If there’s one thing Internet users won’t stand for, it’s the sense that their computers are being hijacked, that control is being taken away from them. And that’s what pop-up windows do.

Cluttered Messages

So far, advertisers don’t seem to be scared off by the threats of boycott making the rounds of Web bulletin boards. It will be interesting to see if advertisers heed Jupiter Media Metrix’ recent comments that pop-up ads do not drive meaningful traffic and can cause long-term harm to an online brand.

Pop-ups are attractive to advertisers, of course, not just because they are automatic. Their larger size lets advertisers pack them with information. And they’ve done just that– and then some.

Those that I’ve seen — and I’m probably one of the people at the lower end of the 20-second average time spent looking at them — have been a cluttered mess of graphics and message.

Web Trickery

Web users are too smart to be fooled into reading ads that do not interest them. That’s the point of the larger versions of banners. They don’t masquerade as non-ads. They don’t hide behind other browser windows. In other words, they respect the intelligence and the control of the computer user to simply read their message.

Advertisers are starting to find new ways to play around with those bigger ad spaces. IBM has some interesting interactive ads. Most important, they don’t offend the senses.

Yes, they’re big. But they’re obviously advertising. You click it — or don’t by choice.

For that reason, Web advertising has always been, well, a bit more sophisticated than the television ads that you have to watch unless the clicker is handy.

Looking for Something?

Being voluntary, online ads are more akin to those in a newspaper, which readers learn by the time they’re teenagers to ignore or overlook if they so choose. Unless, of course, they’re looking for something.

And in the end, this is where the Internet has the advantage. Advertisers can make smart decisions about where people who might be interested in looking at their commercials may be.

Then they can entice them with smart, clever advertising that is obvious enough to attract attention, but modest enough not to force anyone to read it.

What’s Not Right

It’s a difficult balance, no doubt about it. It will probably take lots of trial and error for each advertiser to get it right. So far, though, we know more about what’s not right than what is.

Yet with all the evidence pointing to pop-up ads just being plain wrong, why do companies like eBay’s Half.com continue to use them?

It’s a mystery, frankly. Maybe they underestimate the intelligence of the average Web surfer. Maybe they’re confident their site is so great that anyone who arrives at it, even as a hostage and even for a split second, will go away impressed. Or maybe they’re just grasping at straws.

But it’s not time for desperation just yet. Online advertising works. The evolution has only just begun. In the long run, pop-ups will be considered just another primitive life form.

Let’s hope they become extinct sooner than later.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • I absolutely LOATHE these things. I hate annoying animated banners as well, but I can accept them as a fact of life like TV commercials, roadside billboards, and junk mail.

    I have an idea though. These advertisers are charged based on how many times their ads are clicked, right? What would happen if every time you see one of these things we all make it a point to click it to generate a charge for the advertiser, but refuse to purchase anything from them?

    Lets run up their bill without generating a dime of revenue for them.

    Whaddya think?

  • I couldn’t agree more! Pop up ads are not only annoying, they are a strict intrusion of my privacy. I’m sure you can find one person (besides those behind the ads) that are for this pop-up ad campaign.

    If this continues, I would like to see a universal graphic that we could put on our pages that let everyone know our feelings about pop-up ads.

  • Context, context, context!!!!

    The Net offers the opportunity for advertisers to promote their clients’ products and services in context…if only they would be kind enough to allow Net users to determine when within a context they are seeking more specific information on related products or services…

    The Internet is unlike any medium before it, in the ability to allow users to select when they want to open their minds to advertising input….and yet most Net advertising practitioners treat it like it is just another venue for billboarding.

    A BIG thumbs down to pop-up mind fucking…! A cautious thumbs up to the idea of larger, more context-specific advertising content – as it obviously MUST be related to the site’s context to be of any value to the client.

  • I agree that Pop-Ups should go. I have eliminated them completely. Of course by doing so I have also eliminated some ads that would be of interest to me. It’s the price I’m willing to pay just to get rid of them.


  • RE: Pop-up Ads, I AM a Graphic artist and I’m constructing my website offline, so I’ve been considering this issue. I would have to say that I will probably go with a Pop-up for certain ads and if I have to use any ads on my pages I will use very small ones at the bottom of the page. Pop-up ads can be clicked off and they go away, other ads sit there blinking and flashing at you. Because my site will be centered around my graphics I don’t want anything to distract from the visual focus of my work or my products. In designing my own ads I AM making them noteworthy but not intrusive, i.e. no animations, flashing or blinking. I think part of the problem with either type of ad is in the design, if the ad graphic is really well done people will want to look at it instead of being annoyed by it. Advertising should be attractive, not distracting. Thanks, Megan

    • Not so fast, ProtoDewd. By clicking on a pop-up ad every time you see it, you’re mostly going to be telling those advertisers that their ads ARE working. They got your attention, which is the first goal of any type of ad.

  • Regan hit the nail right on the head this time!

    I refuse to re-visit any site that throws unwanted (they all are) pop-up ads in my face. Pop-up ads are cheap insults to the intelligence of internet users.

    I’m only here writing this message right now because the NewsFactor sites have not stooped to throwing pop-ups at me.

    When I come across a “regular” (I believe they are referred to as “user-initiated,” non-pop-up) banner ad that has a message that interests me or sparks my curiosity, I click on it, or not, at my own will. Regardless of whether or not I grab my mouse and make that click, I AM more likely to remember the advertiser and the product or service they offer in a positive light. I think they call that “branding.” Either way, I AM not offended by regular banner ads.

    Heck, like Regan alluded to, I’d much rather have the choice of acknowledging an ad (or not), than to have pay a subscription fee for all of the content that is currently free to me because of the revenue web sites generate from advertising.

    I’ve read about some studies showing that pop-up ads produce high click rates. They must be counting the clicks on that “X” that’s located in the upper right hand corner of the pop-up window, you know, the one that closes the window. I’m clicking on them 100% of the time.

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