Exclusive: Spam research reveals disgust with pop-up ads

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Fearing spam erodes consumer acceptance of other ad forms, the Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies are preparing a joint policy against unsolicited e-mail. But in tackling spam, the associations may have unearthed an even bigger problem for their members-consumers are more annoyed by pop-up ads than spam.

The ANA-4A's new spam policy, intended to guide member behavior and lobbying efforts, stops short of requiring only opt-in programs or supporting a "do-not-spam" list. But it calls for marketers to provide clear and fail-safe systems for consumers to opt-out of unwanted e-mail and avoid deceptive subject lines and other misleading practices.

The proposed policy also calls for marketers to use functional return e-mail addresses in the "sent by" line, so consumers can reply to listed addresses. And it states a preference that those addresses be clearly associated with marketers or brands behind the mailing.

The 4A's board approved the guidelines last week, and the ANA's board is set to vote on the policy next month. Representatives of major advertisers such as Altria Group's Kraft Foods, Masterfoods, Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever participated in developing the policy.

In taking a position on spam, the leading organizations of advertisers and agencies sidestepped, at least for now, the issue of pop-up and other intrusive online ad formats. But the research they conducted shows that many consumers are even more annoyed by these ads than by unsolicited e-mails.

Bob Liodice, president-CEO of the ANA, acknowledged pop-up ads may annoy consumers as much as spam and said he would like to see the groups address pop-ups next. But he said, "like Orville Redenbacher, we decided to just do one thing right" first.

O. Burtch Drake, president-CEO of the 4A's, said pop-up ads are "not on our docket right now," adding, "I don't think [pop-ups are] half the problem that spam is, or even a tenth of the problem."

starting point

Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer and founder of Intelliseek's PlanetFeedback.com, who has publicly prodded the ad groups and major media advertisers to take a stand on both spam and pop-ups, praised the groups and participating companies for their leadership on what he called "a critical starting point."

But research he presented to the groups based on online surveys of PlanetFeedback users indicate pop-up ads are more annoying and less credible to consumers than either spam or telemarketing. About 60% of respondents found pop-ups more annoying than spam. It also found a correlation between annoyance levels and likelihood consumers will try to block out other forms of advertising, such as TV.

Time's up

"Once the ad community publicly commits to consumer-centered principles, supported by enforcement mechanisms," said Mr. Blackshaw, ad models that "flirt with intrusiveness at levels comparable to or exceeding spam-especially pop-ups-will have a short, indefensible shelf life."

Almost all ANA and 4A's members already have opt-in-only standards for e-mail programs stricter than the groups propose, said Norm Lehoullier, CEO of Grey Global Group's Grey Interactive and chair of the 4A's interactive committee. But he said the groups needed to take a stand against spam.

While most ANA members don't use pop-ups, many direct marketers are likely to continue to want them, he said, and he's reluctant to start singling out ad forms to outlaw.

Ultimately, ANA and 4A's hope to enlist the Direct Marketing Association in the policy. Jerry Cerasale, senior VP-government affairs of the DMA, said the ANA-4A's guidelines don't appear substantially different from the DMA's, other than the preference for return e-mail addresses to contain the names of marketers or brands.

The DMA also is cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on "Operation Spam Slam," an effort to crack down on fraudulent e-mail marketers.

Fast Facts

Total pop-up filters installed*: 20 million

Total spam filters installed: 15 million

June Google searches for pop-up filtering software: 1.2 million

June Google searches for spam-filtering software: 600,000

*Note: Data excludes ISPs that provide filters

Source: PlanetFeedback

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