Popup Pandemonium

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Despite all the trash talk going on these days about Internet advertising-much of it well-deserved-most Internet users recognize that advertising of some sort is necessary if we are to enjoy all the "free" services and content available online. But advertising in the digital era has largely been by trial-and-error (heavier, unfortunately, on the error side of the equation) because cyberspace is uncharted territory, and Internet users are a brand new breed of consumer.

This advertising dilemma is reminiscent of the early days of television where viewers were outraged when their favorite program was interrupted every 10-15 minutes for a commercial break. With time, however, TV watchers have grown accustomed to these intrusions, and have learned to tune them out if they choose to. In like manner, Internet users have tuned out banner ads, which has left website sponsors and advertisers scrambling to find new ways to get their messages out to the public.

Introducing . . . the much-maligned darling of online profiteers-the POPUP. These annoying little windows that appear on your screen, seemingly out of nowhere, have received about the same warm reception as telemarketers who interrupt your dinner. With telemarketers, however, you can simply ignore the ringing phone; but the popup insists that you deal with it immediately-either by closing or minimizing-before you can get back to whatever it was you were doing in the first place, if you can even remember. And we mustn't forget the ubiquitous popup's less-intrusive younger brother, POPUNDER, who at least waits until you're done clearing the table (or closing the website) before materializing.

Either way, a popup or popunder demands your attention, which is why the statistics (as reported by Statistical Research, Inc.) prove that popups are 50% more likely to be noticed than other forms of online advertising, making them a highly profitable marketing tool. And that is precisely why many are banking (literally) on the premise that the end justifies the means, even though the means to that end are annoying many Internet users to the point of boycotting products and advertisers.

To be fair, though, many Internet users do seem to tolerate popups, or accept them as a necessary evil, and would approve of their use in moderation rather than having to pay a fee each time they surf. Moderation is the keyword here. And the question seems to be-is it possible to achieve moderation in a marketing venue that is already out of control? Case in point, X10 Camera (is there anyone who doesn't see that popup 10 times a day?) had allegedly purchased more than a billion ads through September of this year!

To weigh the pros and cons of online advertising in general might appear, on the surface, to be overwhelmingly swayed to the cons. But it's important not to negate the value of the amateur sites, fan sites, sites hosted on free servers, and the thousands of small nonprofits who must sell advertising to stay alive. Not to mention the added value that large corporate sites are able to offer their users thanks to the ad-generated revenue.

On the other hand, not all online advertising is under attack. At this particular moment, (remember, the Internet climate is always subject to instantaneous change) complaints largely center on the various forms of popups, for reasons including the following:

  • Too many, too often
  • Distracting, annoying
  • Have been used profusely by pornographers, creating an association in a user's mind between popups and pornography
  • Spawning techniques (closing one window opens up two more, and so on)
  • Windows can be stripped of controls so they can't be closed without shutting down or employing more advanced user methods

In addition to the above problems with popups, a controversy is growing (and lawsuits looming) regarding "third-party" advertisers who place their own unauthorized popups on their competitors' websites. These unethical practices further muddy the waters for the unsuspecting user who is unaware that the ads on the website they were visiting have been obscured by an unauthorized advertiser hijacking the sites' audience. Some users are deceived into believing that the two competitors are actually working in cooperation with, rather than in competition against each other. One notable example among many-the Weight Watchers site was hijacked by a company pushing diet drugs, causing considerable confusion for Weight Watchers members.

Some within the Internet community feel that the only solution to these problems is to move to user-supported websites, which would charge a fee-per-use or a subscription fee. Supporting this opinion, Yahoo Executive Vice President Greg Coleman proclaimed that the "free-for-all world is over." Others are responding within their own domains. For instance, AOL will block popups for its own client base, but only within AOL-generated sites. And iVillage, a major web publisher, has announced that they will not accept popup ads on their site (although they are still delivering their own). Other options are on the horizon, including a myriad of blocking tools.

Up until now, most programs created to block popups have done so indiscriminately-either all or nothing. Aside from the revenue implications this may have on the World Wide Web in general, it is an imperfect solution. The latest answer to the old approach is ContentWatch's new release-PopupProtect-an easily customizable response to the popup dilemma. With PopupProtect's unique features, the user is given the ability to block all popups or allow only the ones they want.

So, how ever the Internet ad community ends up dealing with the latest obstacles to online marketing-for now, ContentWatch is giving the viewing audience a reprieve from watching the battle unfold (or pop up) in front of their eyes.