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The announcement was one of a set of new guidelines released just before the IAB opens its national Leadership Forum meeting in New York City today. Other suggested guidelines deal with labeling and sizing.
Founded in 1996, IAB is a trade group of the online advertising and marketing industry. Since 1997 it has functioned as a central standardizing force, issuing structural and functional guidelines designed to make the Internet a more efficient and effective venue for marketers and their advertising agencies.
Pop-up ads are widely recognized as the bane of Web surfers and shoppers, even as some advertisers say the ads draw more attention and click-throughs than any other kind of online ad. Currently, pop-ups and pop-unders often begin loading by the cluster when users reach certain sites and often continue as a cascade of unstoppable ads that clutter the user's computer screen. After they are clicked away, many of the same ads return.
Studies indicate that pop-ups are perceived by a majority of Web users as even more of an aggravation than spam, or unsolicited e-mail. A number of mainstream publishers, such as America Online, have taken action to dramatically curtail the sale and use of pop-up ads by their online advertisers.
Voluntary middle ground
The IAB's effort is widely viewed as an effort to find a voluntary middle ground that allows some use of pop-ups within the bounds of what Web users are likely to find more tolerable.
"The IAB probably didn't go as far as they could go, but it's a good start," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing and customer satisfaction officer at data analyst firm Intelliseek in Cincinnati. "It's the first time anyone has had anything to say about pop-ups anywhere," he added.
"Spam, pop-ups and telemarketing are the three areas where consumer annoyance is just off the charts," Mr. Blackshaw said.
About 83% of consumers indicated they were annoyed with pop-up ads, according to a survey last month by PlanetFeedback, Intelliseek's consumer feedback unit. Consumer's level of trust of this ad form was only 2%, according to the study.
'More personal than TV'
It is ironic that consumers are not bothered by continuous TV ads, but pop-ups get under their skin, said Greg Stuart, CEO of the IAB. "Consumers view the Internet as more personal than TV," he said.
Pop-up and -under advertising was defined in the guidelines as "any advertising experience that utilizes a Web browser-initiated window to deliver an ad impression either directly above or below the existing browser (window)." The ad form should also be clearly labeled with the name of the network, advertiser, publisher or browser type, according to the guidelines.
The consumer needs to know who is serving the ad, Mr. Stuart said. "A lot of times pop-ups don't come from the publisher. Google has never served pop-ups, yet Google has told me they get complaints from pop-ups," he said.
Use-initiated close box
The viewer should also be able to close the pop-up or pop-under box, according to the guidelines, which also set out consistent sizing suggestions.
"Advertisers have to understand that the time has come to restore our own credibility and proactively establish some guidelines," Mr. Blackshaw said.
In spite of the annoyance factor, pop-ups work -- they are 13 times more effective in generating click-throughs and conversions than standard banners, according to a May 2003 study by Advertising.com.
The time has come, nevertheless, for a "little bit of self-regulation to protect the medium for the long term," Mr. Stuart said.
The guidelines, which are preliminary pending a two-month comment period, would be adhered to voluntarily by Internet advertisers. The goal of the guidelines is to improve consumer perception of pop-ups. The feedback page is available at the IAB Web site at IAB.com.