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Advertisers Ditch Pop-Ups For New Tricks


Vonage In Print News



December 4, 2005

By David Ho

The dreaded Internet pop-up ad is a dying breed, but as record numbers of consumers shop online this holiday season, a new arsenal of advertising technology awaits.

From ads that float, sing or dance to video commercials that seem straight from TV, the hot online ad market is evolving quickly as faster Internet connections spread and Web surfing goes more mainstream.

To keep up, advertisers are experimenting, often with mixed results, as they walk a line between attracting eyeballs and annoying the consumers they covet.

"The Web has become a mass medium," said Greg Stuart, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau industry group. He said that with more than half of U.S. households with Internet access now using high-speed connections, "it opens up the creative palette in a bigger and broader way."

U.S. Internet advertising revenue is expected to reach about $12 billion this year, compared with more than $9 billion in 2004. While online promotions only account for about 4 percent of all ad revenue, advertisers are increasingly abandoning traditional media like television and newspapers and turning to the Web, where ad space on the biggest portals is sold out months in advance.

The industry's hottest area is search advertising. Text ads related to online queries with sites such as Google or Yahoo accounted for 40 percent of online ad revenue in the first half of this year, according to IAB. Search ads work by targeting people looking for related information.

But people remember visual ads, and there has been a surge in recent months of video advertising on Web pages or mixed in with online video clips, Stuart said. Industry research has found video ads to be more effective in making an impression with consumers than still or animated displays.

The maturing of online video made it the second most preferred form of online advertising this year after the traditional banner ad, a rectangular display across the top of a Web page, according to an annual survey of nearly 3,000 Internet users to be released soon by the Dynamic Logic market research firm.

Video ads ranked sixth last year when they were less well known, probably because people expected them to be disruptive, said Margaret Hung, the firm's research vice president.

"Now that they've seen they can be tastefully done, they're thinking they're not so bad," she said.

But attitudes haven't changed about pop-up ads that open unwanted browser windows. Pop-ups and related technologies, ranked in many surveys as almost universally despised, have spawned an entire market for technology intended to block them.

"It's not that people don't want commercial Web sites or sites that promote products, they just don't want them to get in their way," said Jakob Nielsen, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group consulting firm, which studies the behaviors of Internet users.

Nielsen said the top Internet annoyances are Web sites that automatically play music, pop-up ads and "floating" or "overlay" ads that superimpose promotions, sometimes moving ones, atop pages.

'Aggressively upset'

The floating ad, ranging from a video window promoting a new car to an animated dog running across the screen, is a way to grab attention while dodging pop-up blockers, Nielsen said. He said people react to floating ads as they did with pop-ups five years ago, getting "aggressively upset."

"If a page contains an ad, that's life," he said. "But putting an ad on top of the screen is like smacking the user, it's intruding on their personal space."

Despite that reaction, floating ads ranked second in raising brand awareness for advertisers after video, Hung said. She added that people do not mind floating ads as long as they can be closed and do not appear repeatedly, which can eventually create a negative feeling toward an advertiser.

The IAB, which issues guidelines for many forms of online ads, recommends that floating ads include a 15-second time limit and a close option. Many Web publishers have similar requirements.

But the result is inconsistent.

"Oftentimes the close button is so tiny people can't find them," Hung said. "Consumer control is still very important."

The online ad industry should employ best practices to prevent the floating ad, which can be very effective, from going the way of pop-up ads, which have been abandoned by many advertisers, said Rick Bruner, research director for online ad technology firm DoubleClick. He said adopting industry standards is difficult, partly because of pressure to innovate with Internet promotions.

"There's not a lot you can do with a magazine ad or a television ad that pushes the boundaries," he said. But, he added, "ultimately it is in advertisers' best interest to format ads in ways that users are not going to find overly intrusive."

Fewer ads, but bigger

Floating ads are created with "rich media," technologies used for Web page special effects. Other examples include expanding ads, which are traditional display ads that grow to reveal more content such as videos or games.

Another industry trend is toward fewer but bigger ads on Web pages, Bruner said. It provides visitors with less cluttered pages, advertisers with more effective displays, and publishers with more lucrative on-screen real estate.

Display advertising, with pictures or video, accounted for 20 percent of revenue in the first half of this year and rich media ads earned another 8 percent, according to IAB.

Vonage Holdings Corp., the Internet phone service provider, is the leading online advertiser, according to Nielsen NetRatings.

Vonage focuses on a high volume of ads to keep costs down and is more interested in getting direct responses from users rather than building brand awareness, said Caroline Finch, Vonage's director of marketing. She said Vonage uses everything from text ads to video, but tends to stay away from rich media effects.

Finch said she uses her own tastes as a guide when picking ads.

"I try not to do things that I would actually be offended by," she said. "We've found that simple things work the best."

TYPES OF ONLINE ADS

• RICH MEDIA: Various technologies behind Web page special effects such as animation, video and interactive games. Rich media promotions sell for higher rates.

• LEADER BOARD: A larger version of the traditional rectangular banner ads that typically stretch across the top of Web pages. Banners are one of the oldest and most accepted forms of Internet advertising.

• SKYSCRAPER: Tall ads that run on sides of Web pages.

• EXPANDABLE ADS: Displays such as banners or skyscrapers that grow larger when a Web surfer moves over them or clicks with a mouse.

• OVERLAY: Also called writeover or floating ads, these promotions can hover over a Web page within a browser window, often delivering animation or video. Some use large displays while others may have animated creatures or vehicles moving across a page. They may give users the option to bypass them.

• INTERSTITIAL: An ad typically displayed in between Web pages when a user is linking from one to another.

• POP-UP: Ads that open a new browser window on their own at the front of a screen. The spread of pop-up blocking programs has led many advertisers to curtail their use.

• HOME PAGE TAKEOVER: A broad term that includes overlay and other ads that entirely cover a Web page or manipulate its contents.

• ON-PAGE VIDEO: Video contained inside a Web page ad, including static displays and those that expand. The video may start by itself or require a user to turn it on.

• IN-STREAM VIDEO: Video ads that may resemble TV commercials embedded into online video content before or during programs such as news, sports or music videos.




 
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

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