What happened to pop-up ads?

By Kapil Ohri , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | February 26, 2009
In the last few years, the effectiveness of pop-up ads has dropped drastically for various reasons. But industry observers are not yet ready to write them off

Post 2000, a new format of online advertising became popular - Pop-ups. This was a consequence of the decline in the effectiveness of banner ads.

Between 1999 and 2000, most websites carried banner ads in sizes such as 120x60 pixels, 234x60 pixels and 468x60 pixels. These banner ads were much smaller than those seen today, which have sizes of 728x90 pixels, 728x60 pixels or 960x40 pixels.

Smaller banner ads made websites look cluttered and also resulted in consumers ignoring these ads, so that the click-through rate (CTR) received by banner ads was not high.

In such a scenario, advertisers looked for an alternative online advertising format, which could help them cut the advertising clutter and get noticed by consumers. Since online display advertising did not offer too many options, the demand for pop-up advertising picked up - pop-ups appear as a separate window whenever a consumer opens a website and thus, have higher chances of getting noticed.

Pop-up advertising gained momentum during the dotcom bust phase in 2001. Many dotcom companies were under pressure to monetise their online properties and survive in the tough times, leading to increased usage of the pop-up ad format.

Lately, however, pop-up ads are on a decline. It is estimated that the CTR of pop-up ads is 0.2-0.3 per cent, as compared to 5-7 per cent in its heyday.

In fact, during the good days, pop-up ads comprised 15 per cent of the total online display advertising pie. Today, the share of pop-up ads has declined to a mere 2 per cent. Some of the leading websites in India, such as Rediff.com, Indiatimes.com and Naukri.com still use pop-up advertising.

The decline of pop-up advertising began in 2004-2005. Although consumers have always found pop-up ads to be intrusive and irritating there was no way to avoid them initially. The biggest dampener for pop-up advertising came in the form of pop-up ad blockers in internet browsers. Most of the recent versions of browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome offer in-built pop-up blockers.

Akshay Garg, business head, Komli Media, an online ad network which offers pop-up ad options to its clients, says, "In the next three to five years, more than 90 per cent of the total online population will use pop-up ad blockers."

He adds, "We can count the number of ad impressions served as pop-up ads, but can't count the number of blocked ads. There is no technology available to figure out whether consumers are using pop-up blockers."

However, certain websites have tried other options as well. Pop-up ad blockers have resulted in the birth of pop-up under ad format, in which an advertising window opens whenever a user closes the main window of a website. But this hasn't gained much popularity.

Advertisers, too, are increasingly choosing to stay away from pop-up ads. As Alok Kejriwal, founder, Contest2Win.com, says, "In the early days, advertisers themselves were new to the Internet, so they weren't aware of consumer dissonance towards pop-up ads. Even brands and companies such as Pepsi, Nestlé and HUL used pop-up advertising extensively before 2005, but not anymore."

Another nail in the coffin was banner ads regaining popularity.

"Today, ad networks can track the online behaviour of consumers. This implies that advertisers can target their right consumers. This, in turn, has led to an increase in the popularity of banner ads," says an industry observer.

The emergence of rich media banner ads, which are more interactive and engaging as compared to static banner ads, has also helped in popularizing banner advertising.

The cumulative effect of all these factors is the decline of pop-up ads. However, it would be too soon to sound the death knell for pop-up ads.

"You can't completely write off pop-up ads," says Sumeet Singh, national head, marketing, Infoedge India.

Singh uses pop-up ads for generating leads and acquiring customers for her company's job portal, Naukri.com and matrimonial site, Jeevansathi.com.

She says, "It's true that pop-up ads are losing effectiveness on a year-on-year basis, but the format can still be effective if it is targeted at the right audience. Pop-up ads can be used to target consumers in tier II and III towns and people above 25 years of age, who are still not aware about the usage of pop-up ad blockers."

Kushal Sanghvi, managing director, Media Contacts India, the digital arm of Havas Media, also believes that an appropriate targeting strategy is required to boost the effectiveness of pop-up ads.

He says, "Pop-up ads may not work on the home-page of horizontal portals, but can work on vertical or niche sites. For instance, automobile pop-up ads can be targeted or served on an automobile website or auto channel of a horizontal portal. It will have higher chances of receiving clicks, as it will be targeted at dedicated consumers who have come to the site or channel to get information on automobiles."

Sanghvi also offers a piece of advice, "Advertisers should relook the pop-up ad format and start using it more innovatively. Small size of pop-up ads could be less intrusive. The same format can also be used to serve video ads, which are more engaging than static display ads."

Lately, many entertainment companies have started using pop-up ads to create awareness about newly launched movies. Auto companies such as Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra & Mahindra are also using the format to generate test-drives leads.

Besides, industry observers also believe that pop-up ads can be useful to generate leads for advertisers such as online matrimonial or job websites and financial services companies offering credit-cards and personal loans. The format also works for companies offering utility-based services, such as wallpaper and screensaver downloads. However, the format should not be used for branding exercises.

© 2009 afaqs!