Pop ups to pop off?

17 Feb 2004

The end may be in sight for annoying popup ads on the web as prominent Irish websites have begun exploring ways of providing less intrusive adverts online. The news comes as Microsoft has also moved to banish the format from its sites.

The Dublin-based internet advertising firm Ican held a meeting last week with representatives from many top Irish websites to discuss how to tackle the popup problem. These ads open a new window when a visitor arrives at a new web page; though effective as an advertising medium, popups often block the view of a site’s content, leaving many users frustrated.

“We’re trying to move away from the popup format and we’ve had lots of suggestions,” said George Thomas, media analyst with Ican. “We all find there’s a need to strike a balance between keeping the user happy and also making money and pleasing advertisers.”

With an online audience of 1.3 million in Ireland, Thomas said that local advertisers had to be careful not to annoy users with intrusive ad formats. “It’s the same market we have to go back to over and over again. We don’t want to create a negative impression of the internet in Ireland,” he pointed out.

Although popups and their near relatives popunders, an ad which briefly appears before moving aside to reveal the site, are mainly found on international sites, Thomas said that this year many Irish sites will move away from interruptive formats such as these towards bigger but less intrusive ads. “It will be about taking clutter out of websites. You’ll see larger format ads within the content, embedded within pages.” This format, where the text on a page wraps around an advert, is known as an island ad.

According to Thomas, another trend for the coming year will see larger skyscraper and banner ads; the ‘monster banner’ measures 760 x 90, for example. Some formats will expand to fit a full page when the user passes the mouse over the ad or clicks on it to see more of the ad. “I think we’ll see new creative formats in the next few months,” Thomas added.

Ican has also suggested that advertisers should consider the internet as a branding medium; in Ireland to date it has mostly been used to generate sales. The automobile industry and the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector have been earmarked to pursue this kind of advert and Ican is to study this area in the coming weeks. As an example of how this can be done, Thomas said that in the US, the Volvo S60 car was launched exclusively online. “We’re not seeing anything like that in this market,” he said. As a result of that campaign, Volvo grew its brand awareness by 64pc, he added.

Last week Microsoft announced that it would no longer sell popups to advertisers on its MSN sites as research had shown that users were extremely dissatisfied with the format. The software giant stopped doing so in the US last year and is extending this programme to many other regions in the coming months.

By Gordon Smith