Tag Archives: Pop-up ad

The Pop Up Piggyback

Is it just me, or have these interstitial ads or whatever they call themselves suddenly become ubiquitous, and no less annoying for it? They now seem to be everywhere (even O’Reilly uses them, shockingly, although it does offer a way to disable them). These are ads, courtesy of companies like Vibrant Media IntelliTXT, that add underlined links to certain words on a website which, when you move your mouse over them, pop up an ad that’s tangentially related to the word in question. This one, for example:

Intellitxt

The ad is for digital cameras. The word link is “review”. The piece itself is about solar-powered garden lights from one of my favorite gadget sites, the long running Gadgeteer. But these ads drive me nuts. Move your mouse over any of the nine links on that article and you’ll get a popup window like the above. Few of them are useful or relevant, as the following study reveals:

  • AC adapter – as in “There’s something really cool about using the power of the sun instead of the power of an AC adapter, when it comes to powering products” — throws up an ad for Laptop AC adapters
  • Review – as in “that’s why I was more than happy to review a solar powered garden accent light” — throws up an ad for Digital Cameras
  • Light weight – as in “The product is composed of a durable and UV protected resin material that looks very much like stone, while remaining light weight” — throws up an ad for Light weight (sic. The ad text is for “Shop for great deals on light weight and millions of other products”. No idea what they’re talking about)
  • Picture — as in “One clue that this might be the case [i.e. that the product cracks; They’re thorough in their reviews over there] is the picture hanger built into the back of the stone” — throws up ad for Free Digital Photo Software
  • Battery – as in “On the back of the stone, you see the battery compartment” — throws up ad for PDA batteries
  • Batteries — as in “Two rechargeable nickel-cadmium AA batteries are included and pre-installed” — throws up ad for Siemens Cordless Phone Batteries
  • Rechargeable batteries — as in “pre-installed rechargeable batteries store energy to power the light at night” — throws up ad for Sanyo rechargeable batteries, the first ad in this bunch which is vaguely relevant to the context.
  • Photo — as in “The built-in photo sensor automatically activates the light” — throws up an ad for Musical Slideshow software
  • Flash — as in “Here’s a picture of the stone that I took without a flash” — throws up an ad for Pentax SLR Digital Flash, arguably relevant but so specific you have to wonder whether anyone is really going to be reading the piece and needing a Pentax SLR Digital Flash
  • Conclusion: Out of 9 ads, 1.5 might be possibly considered useful to the reader.

I’ve whinged about this before (and before), believing it was too intrusive and likely to create a conflict of interest on the part of content creators who may be influenced to insert words that are more likely to match contextual words sold to advertisers. In the example above, for example, a less scrupulous content producer than The Gadgeteer might have chosen, or be encouraged to choose “photo sensor” over “photosensor” (the latter spelling slightly more popular online than the former) because the word “photo” would attract more ads. That’s not a sinister example, but what if the ad sellers forwarded a list of words popular among advertisers, which would steer content producers into putting those words into their writing?

(Vibrant Media says that “IntelliTXT ad units are delivered in real-time and deployed after the article has been published by the website. This is an automated process that cannot influence, or be influenced by the Editorial Team at this website or any other partner publication.” It also includes in its guidelines (PDF) a line: “Vibrant Media strongly encourages publishers not to implement IntelliTXT in late breaking news, political coverage, or other news channels that Vibrant Media deems to be controversial or inappropriate.”)

But the conflict of interest issue (news websites like Forbes.com stopped dealing with IntelliTXT, apparently over this issue) is less important to me than the annoyance and befuddlement that comes with these faux links. There is one real link in Julie’s review but it’s lost in there. First off, it’s the same color as the IntelliTXT ads, but it’s not double underlined, and it’s covered, when the mouse moves over the line above, by an IntelliTXT pop up (see if you can spot it in the screenshot above.) I find these ads annoying, distracting, and not a little confusing. When you compare it to the contextual ads displayed alongside content, you can’t help wondering whether this is a big step backwards for online content. (The ads alongside Julie’s review include one on Solar Powered Fountains and one on Solar battery chargers. I’d argue both those are a darned sight more relevant than any of the interstitials.)

Vibrant Media call this kind of advertising “user-driven advertising”. How is it user-driven? It says that “IntelliTXT helps empower users to view relevant advertising on their own terms.” Relevant? I think not. How “empower”, exactly? “Own terms”? I’d argue IntelliTXT piggy backs a fine tradition of hyperlinking — the vision and bedrock of the World Wide Web to sucker users into mistaking a popup ad for a genuine link.

Vibrant Media sells the idea to advertisers as a way to “Use words to brand. Cut through the online advertising clutter”. Actually, I’d argue it adds to the clutter, and, as the example above shows, has nothing to do with “branding” as anyone I know might understand it.

So what can one do? First off, IntelliTXT isn’t loading anything onto your computer. The ads are sleazy, but the actual implementation isn’t. If you’re a Firefox user, install Greasemonkey and then this IntelliTXT Disabler script. The IntelliTXT links will load, briefly appear and then you won’t see them no more. If you’re not a Firefox user, get it. Sure, websites need advertising to survive, but lets make sure they are either smart ads, funny ads, ads that are relevant to the content, ads that don’t mislead the reader, and, finally, ads that don’t get in the way.

Flash, Floating Ads And Hijacking Your Webcam

I haven’t had time to look at this closely, and humble apologies if this is old hat, but can pop-up ads hijack users’ web-cams and microphones?

I was surfing at a website called This Is London, when on one page a pop-up Flash ad appeared for Starbucks. I was using Mozilla Firefox 0.7 and it just would not disappear from right above the first few paragraphs of the piece I was trying to read. Like this:

I right clicked on it and got a menu option for Flash settings. When I clicked on that, this is what popped up (well this is another ad that appeared on the same page when I viewed it in another browser, but it’s pretty much the same apart from the website address):

The earlier website was for uk.tangozebra.com, which doesn’t resolve, but which I’m assuming is part of Tangozebra, a ‘leading online advertising and marketing solutions provider in the UK’. The other link, serving-sys.com, doesn’t resolve either but is registered to New York-based online advertising company Eyeblaster.com. You can repeat the trick of getting the above window to appear if you click on their floating ad example and then right click on the ad.

So what is going on? I realise I’m not the first to spot this kind of thing, and the innocent explanation is that it is a built in feature of Macromedia Flash, not some sinister part of the floating ad thing. (Here’s Macromedia’s take on this, which seems to be nearly two years old.) But if this has been the case for a while, why has it not been stopped? And what would happen if I did allow the Flash program to access my camera and microphone? And, lastly, why would the Starbucks ad not disappear until I clicked on it and allowed another window to pop up?

Banking Sites And The Popup

Here’s one of those moments when you wonder whether banks have yet got on online security.

The Melbourne Age, reporting from the birthplace of phishing, reports today that customers of Australia’s Westpac bank are getting flummoxed by the appearance of a new pop-up window on its Internet banking page.

The pop-up, according to one user, who spoke to ABC Radio 774, “said she had encountered a pop-up that had a 44-page agreement and she could not log in until she clicked on it. … She told 774 she had been unable to send an email to the Westpac support personnel unless she accepted the agreement.”

Westpac, according to The Age, “said the bank had changed some terms and conditions of its service – favouring customers – and as part of the industry code of practice, it had to get customers’ assent.” It has since put the pop-up on hold.

Good intentions, possibly (although who has ever found a user agreement that favours them over a previous agreement?), but banks have got to get up to speed on the fact that pop-ups are a classic phishing tactic. So adding a pop-up to your site is going to make the savvy customer nervous and the uninformed customer think it’s normal to have lots of pop-ups on a banking site.

Bottom line: Simplify banking sign-ons and reduce the tendency to add stuff — such as pop-up agreements, pop-up ads, indeed any kind of ads before or after signing in that may confuse the user about the authenticity of the site, and, importantly, whether they have safely signed off.

The Punitive Pop-up

Following a posting here a few months back, here’s another one of those services that promise to bypass pop-up blockers to deliver pop-ups.

The company’s called Falk eSolutions AG, it’s based in the German town of Moers and says it’s “a leading and global provider of sophisticated ASP-solutions for online marketing” (I’m still waiting for a company that doesn’t describe itself as ‘leading’ and says something more modest, such as ‘middling’ or ‘somewhat to the back of the pack and wheezing a bit from the effort’.)

Its new technology, part of a new release of its AdSolution FX product, will “instantly convert pop-up and pop-under inventory to alternate formats for optimal delivery to those users.” It amuses me how these companies struggle to get round the awkward fact that they are designing technology that involves delivering something to a user who has actively tried not to receive it. Falk, to its credit, doesn’t soft-peddle it: “This dynamic serving technology.. is an option that will allow serving of standard pop-up or similar alternative rich media creative to all users, regardless of the use of pop-up blocking…”

Of course, not everyone blocking a pop-up knows they’re blocking it. Google, Yahoo and other major toolbars block pop-ups by default, and this is clearly hurting the marketing world, since pop-ups have a higher success rate than ordinary ads. But that doesn’t get away from the fact that the technology is specifically designed to circumvent something that a user has put in place, either by design or by installing something that has as one of its main features pop-up blocking. More discussion on this at Slashdot.

An eWeek story by Matt Hicks says the technology “will automatically replace a pop-up or pop-under ad with what are called “floating” ads, or ads that appear as transparent images over Web-site content”. These ads may be the same or different to the pop-up ads that are blocked (this seems to be part of the ‘Punitive Pop-up Approach’, used by folk like the FPBA Group’s Popstitial, where a user trying to block pop-ups is blasted with bigger, different or more ads).

Still, perhaps the most interesting point about all this is the economics. How does a company know whether the pop-up ads it is paying for are actually getting to the customer? As Falk says: “Currently, there is a large and growing discrepancy between the volume of pop-up advertising impressions booked by advertisers and that which is actually seen by online users.” I’m not quite clear on where exactly the problem is — are companies paying for ads getting overcharged because their pop-up ads are not popping up, or are they getting undercharged because the pop-up blockers confuse the ad-tracking pings?

Whatever, Falk reckon that publisher customers are “losing up to 50% of pop-up/under ad impression inventory, causing substantial accountability problems for publishers, who charge by ad display.” Falk seem to be suggesting that with their software this won’t be a problem because pop-up blockers won’t work: “With AdSolution FX these counting differences, in large part due to pop-up ad blockers, will return to a normal and calculable amount similar to usage on computers with no pop-up blocker running.” In other words: With us, your ads will get through.

Part of the silliness of all this, I think, is that publishers realise that pop-up blockers are not popular, yet they still insist on using them. Falk points out that “over the last year, many sites have established consumer-friendly frequency guidelines to limit the number of pop-up/under impressions per user, yet blocker use continues to grow.” That would tell me that people really don’t like pop-ups, but that’s not the conclusion that Falk reaches: “The proliferation of pop-up blocking software has made it harder for web publishers and marketers to do business and monetize the content that users desire,” the press release quotes Joe Apprendi, CEO of Falk North America, as saying.

“As a technology provider, it is our objective to deliver the tools to support the policies and ROI objectives of our customers, both publishers and marketers,” he says. “This customizable feature gives our customers the flexibility they require to best manage their advertising with their audience preferences in mind.” I would have to say I get the strong impression that audience preferences are for no pop-ups. Find another way, guys. If Google’s AdSense has taught us only one thing, it’s that sometimes unobtrusive is best.

Oh, and Falk’s website is a nightmare hotchpotch of badly designed graphics and, yes, meaningless pop-up windows, that are weirdly formatted and hard to read (bad luck if your default setting for links is to have them in blue). If that’s not enough to put you off pop-ups, I don’t know what is.

Phishing And The Pop-up

Speaking to Well Fargo Online’s Wendy Grover this morning, I realised there’s a dimension to the debate about pop-ups that hadn’t occurred to me before: Phishing.

The central argument used by companies such as Wells Fargo in their long-running litigation against the likes of WhenU and Gator (now Claria) is that they confuse the user. These services, they say, hoodwink the user into downloading software that will track their browsing habits and, in the case of WhenU, replace existing ads on a website with their own. Surveys, Wendy Grover says, baffle the end user who didn’t know the software was installed and believe the pop-up ads they do see are from the website itself, not WhenU.

Until lately this was all a little academic. Privacy issues were at the fore. But now that banks and financial institutions are being targeted by sophisticated scammers who create convincing looking emails and websites to fool users into entering their passwords, it no longer seems so. If users are confused about the origin pop-ups on banking websites, then it illustrates their vulnerability to being duped by an entirely fake website. Wells Fargo themselves have been the target of several phishing expeditions.

Customers, we have to acknowledge, do not know exactly what’s going in their browser, and while educating them helps, misleading programs adding third party content don’t.  ”It’s very important that customers know where they are and where they’re entering their information,” says Grover. I’d tend to agree.

Another Popup Blocker, But This Time From Minsk

Here’s a new version of another program designed to block popup ads, but which also performs the (admittedly increasingly common) trick of opening multiple browser windows at once. It’s called AdsCleaner.

I haven’t tried it, but I do like the honest PR release, just out, so I am going to quote: “New version features optimized process of ads blocking that has greatly influenced the operating speed. In opinion of AdsCleaner users, deceleration during the process of ad blocking was, perhaps, the main inconvenience peculiar to the early versions of the application. Now this inconvenience is eliminated.” I wish other companies were so honest.

AdsCleaner 2.0 cost $20. It is developed by SoftInform, which sounds like a computer division of the KGB. Which turns out not to be too far from the truth: As with a lot of these smaller software companies, it’s dang hard to find out where they’re based, which is a shame, because there’s nothing wrong with coming from places like Minsk in Belarus. Which is where I think SoftInform comes from.

Microsoft Rush Out New Toolbar

Microsoft’s MSN have gone the way of Google and launched a toolbar that also blocks pop-ups.

To explain the business behind this business, read the excellent Microsoft Monitor. It points out that Google’s toolbar does all this already, and is at the same time diverting searches away from Microsoft. Given that a ‘sizeable chunk’ of Microsoft’s ad revenue comes from paid searches, this hurts. Hence the toolbar, which, like Internet Explorer’s default search engine (and most other Microsoft products), will take you to MSN. As Microsoft Watch points out, this is the old MSN search engine, not their spanking new one.

Then there’s the pop-up blocker. Microsoft Monitor reckon that “40 percent of consumers say they find traditional pop-up ads to be the most annoying forms of on online advertising”. Internet Explorer doesn’t block ads, and won’t until the release of a Windows XP Service Pack (a kind of add-on, pulling together all the updates since the last Service Pack) later this year. It’s clear Microsoft can’t wait that long, hence the toolbar.

Revenge Of The Popup

TechDirt points to a new service that beats PopUp blockers. The Popstitial, according to marketing company webadvantage, “doesn’t defeat pop blockers, it instead determines whether a popup blocker is being used. If so, Popstitial then serves up a full-page advertisement that can either be a separate ad or the same style as the missed pop-up/pop-under”. In other words, it will work out whether you’ve tried to block the popup, and punish you with a popup you can’t block. As TechDirt points out, “The reason people install pop-up blockers is because they don’t want to be bothered with these intrusive ads.”

Sadly, this is just another salvo in the war between people who want to pump ads at you, and people who don’t want to have ads pumped to them. But, on closer inspection, it’s also a somewhat alarming escalation. The Popstitial is developed by the FPBA Group, a “California rich media company” (read ad software company). FPBA happens to stand for  “Full Page Banner Ad”, which was a product the company was touting in mid 2001 as “the killer app that the online advertising companies need in order to take this industry to the next level.” The FPBA, it went on

is a full-page advertisement that is displayed on the primary browser session in between page loads. It does not launch a new pop-up session and does not interfere with the main browsing session. The ad is loaded to the users computer after downloading of the main session page, and is cached prior to its being launched when the user transfers out of the main session page. This allows a seamless delivery of web-page — advertisement — web-page progression. The advertisement is not cluttered by surrounding web-page content, and is timed to appear when the consumer has nothing else to focus upon, so that the full attention of the consumer is focused on the advertisement. A multimedia version of the ad, incorporating audio and video flash components is also available where the ads play like a short commercial in a rich media environment.

In English, the FPBA would load in the background as you viewed a webpage, and then appear on your screen when you tried to go somewhere else. The idea is that you’re not looking at a specific web page so it will get your ‘full attention’. I have to confess I never saw any instances of this outside the pornographic world (according to my friend John) so, and I’m guessing here, the FPBA was not the killer app the company thought it would be.

So perhaps the Popstitial (I hate the name already) may do the trick. It’s certainly intrusive enough: According to Internet marketing mag iMedia Connection, Popstitial is a bit more sleazy (my words, not theirs) than simply replacing a pop-up which is blocked by a pop-up blocker. It will notice if a user closes a pop-up window ‘before actively viewing an ad’ and launch “a full-page advertisement to replace the lost pop-up impression. This insures advertisers’ messages are getting across to the intended target audience seamlessly.” These ads could be Flash, video, animated gifs, or static images; they are “fully trackable, geo-targeted, day-parted, and frequency capped” (OK I don’t know what that means but it sounds scary.)

In shorthand: if you don’t view the popup before closing it, or try to block it, you’ll get blasted with a Full Page Banner Ad. Call it Revenge of the Popup.

This is partly testimony to the success of popup blockers. iMedia quote the CEO of FBPA Group as saying that “Many sites, both large and small, have told us that at least 25 percent of all users have some sort of pop-up blocker activated.” Which is impressive. Expect the popup war to grind on.

News: Say Goodbye To Popups

 Pop Up ads are doomed, now that Microsoft will make blocking them part of its browser, Internet Explorer. Explorer, ZDNet says, joins other web browsers by doing it, but because of its huge market share, it’s likely to kill off the concept entirely. No bad thing, you may say, but it will also hit advertising revenues and may kill off more than a few ventures that depend on ads.
 
The moves by Microsoft and others are the result of deep consumer loathing of pop-ups. About 88 percent of broadband users and 87 percent of dial-up users in North America find that pop-ups interfere with their Web surfing experience, according to Forrester Research.

News: FTC Gets Tough On PopUps. Well, Some Of Them

 The Federal Trade Commission has accused a California pop-up advertising company of digital-age extortion. MSNBC reports that D Squared Solutions allegedly hijacked Internet users’ computers by bombarding them with Windows Messenger pop-up ads — as frequently as every 10 minutes. The ads hawked $30 software that promised only to stop future pop-ups from the company.
 
Windows Messenger is a different beast to Microsoft’s Messenger: it’s supposed to be used for system administrators to send out bulletins to users. Instead D Squared used it to blast annoying messages. The FTC is accusing them of extortion, and with websites like Blockmessenger.com, Endads.com, SaveYourPrivacy.com. and Fightmessenger.com under their control I suspect they have a case.