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Ads infinitum

Jan 26, 20044 mins
Enterprise Applications

When streaming-TV ads appear I will offer a prize of $100 to the first person to create an effective blocking tool.

Every pop-up has other pop-upsEven though we don’t invite ’emAnd those pop-ups make even moreAnd so on ad infinitum.– with apologies to Augustus de Morgan

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about pop-up ads on Web pages – you know, those browser windows that spring up (or under – yes, yes, I know they are pop-unders, but work with me people) when you go to certain sites.

However you look at them, these things are amazingly annoying. They always seem to come in waves and killing one usually generates another, and yet another.

For some time there have been pop-ups that spawn browser windows that try to stay hidden (pop-outs?). These pop-outs generate new visible pop-ups when you kill off a visible pop-up in an attempt to stay “in your face.” This tactic seems to have started with pornography sites but has been filtering out into mainstream advertising.

Whether you are for or against pop-ups depends on where you sit in the Internet food chain – advertisers and advertising executives seem to be “for” while the rest of the world would vote “against.”

Now some of you advertising people out there might bristle at my characterization of the rest of the world being against pop-ups, but there is evidence to back this up: A GartnerG2 consumer survey of 2,667 Internet users conducted in July 2002 found that 78.3% of respondents called pop-up ads “very annoying” and 12% use ad-blocking software.

So, why are pop-ups still being used if a significant number of people hate them? Simple, it is because they work. On average, the click-through rates for pop-ups are almost twice that of banner ads (although I have seen it theorized that this is because users don’t know how to get rid of them and click in the pop-up window by accident causing a click-through to be registered). People who sell advertising also like pop-up ads because they cost at least twice as much as banner ads.

What has really stimulated the discussion on the future of pop-ups is the forthcoming release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer with built-in pop-up suppression. No matter that you can do the same thing with any number of add-on utilities, that the feature is built into the Opera Web browser and that the Google tool bar kills ’em off very nicely and for free. Nope, with Microsoft showing that it is willing to go to bat on behalf of consumers the death knell for pop-ups can be heard in the distance.

Of course, that leaves a vacuum, a thing that nature and advertisers abhor. So with the alacrity that can only be achieved when large amounts of money are at stake, coming soon to a Web browser on your desktop will be television-style advertising videos. This will mean that, should you happen to visit MSN, ESPN, Lycos or iVillage in the near future, you can expect to see these kinds of ads from Pepsi, AT&T, Honda, Vonage and Warner Brothers.

The video ads are provided by technology from a company called Unicast. The commercials are loaded in the background and then displayed when the user tries to move to a new page. The display is claimed to be television quality even for dial-up users, and Unicast says the system is immune to pop-up blockers.

A Pepsi execudroid quoted in The New York Times said: “Yes, it’s intrusive. But I think customers will like it, because it will be so far superior to anything they’ve seen online.” Ohhh, when the revolution comes, baby . . .

When these ads appear I will offer a prize of $100 to the first person to create an effective blocking tool.

If you would like to contribute to the prize fund, drop a line to


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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