'Intrusive' pop-ups get closer scrutiny after iVillage block

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Consumers loathe them. Web publishers have grown reliant on them. While pesky online pop-up ads are unlikely to disappear entirely, increasingly Web publishers and marketers are regulating them in an attempt to pre-empt potential consumer backlash.

IVillage, the leading Web destination for women, last week said it would eliminate pop-ups from most of its network by the end of the third quarter in response to audience feedback. Despite evidence consumers are annoyed by the format, there's been no groundswell of publishers following iVillage's lead, though some have imposed frequency caps on them.

An iVillage/Vividence survey found 92.5% of iVillage women found pop-up advertising to be the most frustrating feature of the Web. IVillage said a small number of pop-up-style ads may continue on the site, but they'll be mostly tied to research and in-house subscription offerings.

`innately intrusive'

"We're not saying pop-ups are bad for everyone, but they're more of a direct-response [ad] unit rather than a branding unit," said Vanessa Benfield, senior VP-sales, iVillage.

While pop-ups are the most "innately intrusive" online ad format, some advertisers are finding value in them, according to Charlie Buchwalter, VP-client analytics, Nielsen/NetRatings. Mr. Buchwalter said marketers, such as travel provider Orbitz, that target relevant offers at the right time via pop-ups have had good response. "Relevance is absolutely key, but the proliferation of new forms of rich media are slowly replacing the garish, in-your-face, intrusive kinds of pop-ups," he said. Consumer software such as Blazing Logic's NoPop.net, enables consumers to block pop-ups.

cutting down

America Online, the interactive unit of AOL Time Warner, has cut the number of pop-up ads on its network by nearly 70%, replacing them with welcome-screen promotions. Google has banned pop-ups and the New York Times Digital's nytimes.com offers specific guidelines for their use, such as only one pop-up can be served to a user per session. CBS MarketWatch.com limits the number of pop-ups it allows advertisers to use on a monthly basis.

The pop-up format won't disappear from other Web sites, but it will become better regulated, said Nick Nyhan, president of Dynamic Logic, an independent research firm that analyzes Internet trends. "Clearly, intrusive advertising benefits advertisers, but not if it's at the expense of the consumer," Mr. Nyhan said. A recent survey by Dynamic Logic on the frequency of pop-up advertising found 78% of survey respondents said one pop-up per hour was appropriate, 38% said three or more, and 22% said they prefer no pop-ups, period. The survey also revealed 85% of those questioned agree advertising is necessary to support Web venues they enjoy and to keep them free even if the ads are a distraction.

Fast Facts

What: Survey of consumer attitudes toward pop-up ads found:

78% said: One pop-up per hour is appropriate

38% said: Three or more per hour is OK

22% said: Ban all pop-ups

Source: Dynamic Logic

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