Thought for the day: Why pop-ups prove unpopular

Online advertising has few fans, yet most companies haven't woken up to the fact that the way they convey their messages are...

New Asset  
Online advertising has few fans, yet most companies haven't woken up to the fact that the way they convey their messages are irritating, intrusive, confusing or downright unpleasant, says Simon Moores.



In a clever twist to the concept of online advertising, O2, the sponsor of the England rugby team, has arranged for a banner to be towed behind an aircraft over London for three hours today as part of the team's victory parade.

It’s surprising how many companies are looking for different ways of reaching a mass audience outside of the regular and more expensive web, television and traditional print media, where the target population is becoming increasingly resistant to messages from advertisers.

Most of us consider pop-up advertising on websites to be the work of the devil, spam by another name, and the evidence shows that when people can download the software that turns intrusive pop-ups off, they will, and in huge numbers too.

When business first started becoming excited about the internet, it wasn’t for all the right reasons, such as information at one’s fingertips. We’ve witnessed the end result of the channel exploitation principle in the tide of spam that clogs our servers every day but it was never meant to be that way.

In the early days, we talked about tightly focused advertising, using the internet as a medium that would only deliver the kind of information that we might be interested in. Instead, we have seen a betrayal of that promise and a lack or relevance, where many leading companies blanket us with ads in the hope that some of it might stick.

Broadband even carries ads that wouldn't pass television watchdog guidelines. Much of what we see on the web today is both unsubtle and poorly targeted.

The ability to opt out of both direct and online mail is creating a kind of desperation among businesses that once depended on carpet-bombing the population with their advertising. Today, the only recourse is to be clever, original and possibly pay for click-through, search-based advertising, which is the most successful medium of all.

Last week, I heard of one large company that has created a popular online column for a pseudo-character. The site in question gives the appearance that the author is funding his newsletter with banner advertising and, consequently, the readership doesn’t object. Perhaps they might if they realised the truth. After all, how do you know that I really exist?

Iain Janes, managing director of Eyetracker, says that properly targeted online advertising can work, but what we are now seeing is a “Very high rate of more experienced users closing down pop-ups and not even looking at banner ads”.

Janes points to Eyetracker’s recent research, which examined the websites of The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Times Online.

“In each of these cases”, says Janes, “You see the problems associated with online advertising. If you want people to look at your advertising, you have to design consecutively different styles of web pages, much like the supermarket shelving principle, which moves everything around the store just as you become used to where everything is.

"This same principle of behaviour can be extended to the internet, because users have learned to navigate intuitively away from the advertising and the results of the eyetracker research on leading websites demonstrate this conclusively."

If Janes is right, then using the internet may, one day, become as taxing as shopping at the supermarket. Just as you become used to where everything can be found on your favourite website, the layout will be changed to maximise the advertising effect or the annoyance to the visitor, depending on your perspective.

What do you think?

Do you find online advertising effective or irritating?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit

Read more on E-commerce technology