The Punitive Pop-up

By | April 30, 2004

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.

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