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> Revenge of the pop-ups
Revenge of the
October 14, 2004
It's been barely two months since Microsoft
made a pop-up blocker available for its Internet
Explorer browser--but Web advertisers have already
found a way to slip their loathed marketing pitches
Service Pack 2 (SP2), Microsoft's security update
to Windows and Internet Explorer, recently armed
40 million people with tools to automatically
suppress advertising windows that spring up, over
or behind requested Web pages. Couple that with
the millions who have downloaded free pop-up-blocking
toolbars from Google, Yahoo, MSN and others, and
nearly half the Web audience in the United States
has voted against pop-up ads, according to several
estimates from ad-serving companies.
But when there's a will, there's a way.
Some publishers, still clinging to the ad revenue
from pop-ups, are exploiting a workaround in IE
and other Web browsers to send pop-up ads despite
blocking software. In one example, visitors to
the Drudge Report Web site who use the Service
Pack version of IE or Mozilla.org's Firefox browser
with a pop-up blocker will nevertheless receive
a pop-under ad if they click a link on the page.
"Pop-ups are a cat-and-mouse game," said Bart
Decrem, a spokesman for the Mozilla Foundation,
creator of Firefox. "We are continually improving
our pop-up blocker, and content developers are
constantly developing a way to get around the
The mice are scoring points. Several online ad-serving
and media executives said that while the pop-up
inventory has shrunk in recent months, it hasn't
fallen as dramatically as one might expect with
installations of SP2 and other blocking technology.
And according to figures from researcher Nielsen/NetRatings,
pop-up and pop-under advertising comprised 6 percent
of the total online ad impressions in September,
the same as it did in October of 2003.
What's more, the slight market contraction has
been a boon for small and midsize publishers,
and desktop software makers, that still serve
the ads. According to several Internet publishers
and ad networks, they've raised rates on pop-ups
and pop-unders by between 10 percent and 30 percent
in recent months. And desktop software makers
such as Claria, formerly Gator, are sold out of
their inventory, according to sources.
"Pop-up blockers have affected our delivery of
pops and, as a result, we have increased the (cost
per impression) by as much as 30 percent," said
C.J. Wolf, CEO of iWin.
Other ad executives are happy not only about
the increase in rates but also by the performance
of the ads. "What is also affecting the price
is the fact that individuals who are not using
pop-up blockers are more likely to be those users
who have traditionally found them to be less annoying
and intrusive," said Chris Berman, of the ad network
Dedicated LA, who said that on average, 50 percent
to 60 percent of Web users are now actively using
"What we are seeing is not just a shortage of
supply but also an increase in performance," Berman
Pop-ups have played a controversial role in the
world of online advertising since the dot-com
bust, when the ads started coming out in force.
At the time, Net publishers of all stripes were
starved for ad revenue and willing to let advertisers
get in their visitors' faces. Consumers complained
loudly, and publishers slightly acquiesced by
introducing the less-intrusive pop-under, which
springs up behind a Web page.
Eventually, the backlash forced major publishers,
such as Yahoo, MSN and America Online, to rethink
their pop policies altogether. In the last year,
many top-tier publishers have stopped selling
pop-ups or pop-unders. Meanwhile, smaller publishers
have chosen to limit the frequency with which
they show the ads.
The pullback, however, hasn't curbed demand from
direct marketers, ad executives say. Advertisers
such as X10, Orbitz and Netflix have built businesses
around blanketing the Web with promotional windows
and driving clicks. That demand is still extremely
high among direct marketers, because pop-ups and
pop-unders are among the most effective ads on
the Internet, garnering click rates two to 10
times higher than standard banners, in some cases.
"Sure, it's effective, and so was Tony Soprano's
style of management," said Greg Stuart, CEO of
the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which has
introduced guidelines for pops-ups and pop-unders.
"I don't believe in effectiveness at any cost.
Some people are abusing the medium."
The money is tough to pass up for some publishers,
The Drudge Report, which did not return a request
command for an extra promotional pop when people
click on a story. The action is based on user
request for the data, instead of issuing a pop
arbitrarily, a technique that is widely used elsewhere.
A Microsoft spokesman said the company has received
few complaints about such tricks, but he said
people still might get pop-ups from intranet applications
or spyware installed on their machines. "Our sense
is also that many unwanted pop-ups are those that
are opened via a user click (for example, click
a link to a new page, on navigation, a pop-up
is opened.) We needed to allow these for site
compatibility," he said, adding that stricter
blocking controls in advanced settings let people
stop this, too.
"When this setting is enabled, an override key
can be depressed while clicking a link," he said.
A major source of pop-up advertising is desktop
applications, which are not generally affected
by browser-based pop-up blockers. Software makers
like Claria and WhenU blanket their users with
10 to 20 new browser pops a day while they surf
the Web. The desktop software ad market has been
in high demand, too. According to Claria's S-1
initial public offering filing from earlier this
year, the company reported profits of about $35.6
million last year on revenue of about $90 million.
The company also has 425 advertisers, including
Cendant and pending acquiree Orbitz.
A new approach
While some ad companies are figuring out workarounds
to deliver pop-ups, others are developing new
Roy de Souza, CEO of ad technology company Zedo,
said his company has created a so-called intromercial
that acts much like a pop-up but doesn't spawn
an added window. When a visitor requests a Web
page, the intromercial will appear before the
requested content. "So far, it's the most popular
alternative to pop-unders," he said.
Undertone Networks, one of the largest providers
of pop-unders, is making up for a shortfall in
inventory by selling formats like the intromercial
to its clients, which include ESPN and Fox News,
according to company CEO Michael Cassidy.
He said that for pop-unders, the company has
raised rates by 10 percent to 15 percent, or to
about $7 for every thousand delivered. (A year
ago, advertisers could buy pop-unders by the thousand
for about $2.50, by some estimates.)
Falk eSolutions, which sells technology to deliver
online ads, has said its software will deliver
"the guaranteed pop." When its ad server detects
pop-up blocking software on a person's machine,
it will deliver what's called a floating ad, or
rich-media ad, instead. Many publishers such as
Ifilm and AtomShockwave are practicing this technique
so as not to lose ad revenue.
And then there's just plan old trickery, like
that of the Drudge Report.
"If adopted by other Web sites, pop-ups will
be back," said Richard Smith, a security consultant
who operates the site ComputerBytesMan.com.
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ZEDO is a global company with headquarters in
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Jan Freeman, 415.348.1975