Pop-up Ads: Bad for Business

By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2004-03-08

Pop-up Ads: Bad for Business

If youre a company that uses Web-based advertising—either to promote products and services or to generate revenue—theres been good news and bad news lately. At the recent Reuters Technology, Media and Telecommunications Summit, Web marketing company DoubleClick discussed the increase in online advertising and predicted double-digit growth for next year.

Now, youd expect a company like DoubleClick, which is completely dependent on Web-based advertising, to paint a rosy picture of online ads. However, its predictions are in line with what we here at eWEEK have been seeing and hearing from readers and analysts. While things arent quite where they were during the dot-com boom, ads are doing very well. And because expectations are more realistic these days, one could make the argument that online advertising is doing better now than it was in the late-90s.

Study after study shows that people are spending more time online and less time focused on other media, such as television and magazines. When done right, an online advertisement is proving to be a worthwhile invesment.

Ah, but thats where the bad news comes in: Not all Web-based ads are created equal.

Hello, pop-up ads.

Its not news that pop-up ads are extremely annoying, which is why anti-pop-up utilities are always among the top downloads at software sites and why many ISPs now offer anti-pop-up tools to their users. But a recent study by consulting company Bunnyfoot Universality (at www.bunnyfoot.com/popup) shows that pop-up ads are a lot worse than extremely annoying—they actually create negative feelings in users who may have initially been potential customers.

What a great selling point! Imagine being a marketing whiz telling your bosses, "Ive got a great new advertising tool we can use. It will annoy and trouble customers so much that they will start to hate us and decide to never purchase or use our products and services."

Where do we sign up?

Next page: Users resent Web sites running the pop-up ads too.

Page Two

Even worse, the bad feelings arent limited to the companies advertising through pop-ups. The Bunnyfoot study also shows that users resent the Web sites that run pop-up advertising—so much so that theyll stop visiting those sites.

So, your Web site is running an advertisement that is driving away visitors, which will, in turn, cause companies to stop advertising on your site. Thats a great way to generate revenue. I sure hope the pop-up advertisers are paying you enough to make up for the rest of your lost ad dollars.

To me, the Bunnyfoot study is simply stating the obvious. Before I started using pop-up blockers, I discontinued visits to any site that caused a wave of pop-ups on my system, and I know many other people who did the same. But its nice to have a cold, hard study to validate what seems logical to most of us.

The Bunnyfoot study might also provide ammunition for Web site administrators who instinctively have known that pop-ups were driving down site traffic. They now have backup they can take into meetings with executives and sales staff. Armed with the good news that other forms of Web-based advertising are actually working, site administrators might just stand a chance of getting rid of pop-ups. After all, does any company want to advertise using methods that will have a negative effect on sales?

Sadly, however, we all know that pop-ups arent the worst of our online advertisement worries. If a pop-up that can easily be closed is creating negative feelings among users, imagine how they must feel about TV-like ads that block site content and are difficult—if not nearly impossible—to shut down.

Heres a piece of advice for anyone hoping to see revenue and garner affinity: If you have to question whether people will hate a new form of Web-based advertising, they probably will. And hate tends to sour customer relationships.

eWeek Labs Director Jim Rapozas e-mail address is jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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