Internet ads embrace 'in your face' concept
By Anick Jesdanun
NEW YORK Next time you're checking the news online, don't be alarmed if a tiger jumps out or a magic 8-ball rolls over the page, masking the latest headlines.
Web advertisers have begun using more intrusive ads, such as this one for the Harry Potter movie, which blocks Yahoo!'s regular content for several seconds.
Traditional banner ads don't sell as well these days, forcing sites to experiment with larger sizes and more disruptive formats.
Other ads appearing with greater frequency include "pop-ups" and "pop-unders" that automatically open new windows, as well as full-screen commercials that last several seconds before the desired content can be viewed.
Richard M. Smith, former chief technology officer for the Privacy Foundation, complained that one floating ad for Palm featuring handhelds dancing across the screen and grabbing Palm accessories like a video game blocked articles on The New York Times' site.
"Clearly, marketers are getting more 'innovative,' " Smith said. "Web sites can do whatever they want, as long as they don't mess up your computer, but they always run the risk of shooing people away."
Bigger is better
Ads now need to be more intrusive because advertisers simply can't say much or draw much attention using small banner ads that sit unobtrusively at the top or bottom of Web pages, said Jim Nail, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.
Intrusive ads are common elsewhere. Television stations interrupt their programming every 10 to 15 minutes. Magazines are filled with postcard inserts. Telemarketers interrupt the evening meal.
In many ways, Internet users have been spoiled. They have become accustomed to visiting sites for free, being able to largely ignore ads. Now, as sites such as Salon try to charge for ad-free content or present ads that are more noticeable, some users are balking.
"We have to condition them otherwise," said Patrick Hurley, senior vice president of business operations at Salon. "They have to either pay with their attention or pay with their pocketbook."
Allie Shaw, a vice president at ad-technology developer Unicast Communication Corp., believes consumers will tolerate ads if they are relevant and entertaining, and newer formats such as Unicast's TV-like commercials offer such creative opportunities.
Joe Apprendi, executive vice president for Eyeblaster Inc., acknowledges the floating ads delivered through his network interrupt, but says they quickly get out of the way.
"Interruptive, intrusive advertising isn't a four-letter word," Apprendi said. "It's a good thing if managed appropriately."
Many sites use "cookies," or small data files placed on a user's computer, to limit how often a visitor sees the same ad.
"We are trying to draw a fine line between what's effective for advertisers and what's good for the user experience," said Christine Mohan, a spokeswoman for New York Times Digital, which runs the Times and Boston Globe sites.
Users who program their browsers to reject cookies out of privacy concerns are often out of luck a site won't know they are repeat visitors.
MarketWatch's Dan Silmore said most of the complaints have come from users who reject cookies.
Running risk of alienation
While the new formats could permit sites to carry fewer but more lucrative ads, they carry a greater risk of alienating visitors.
"They could be dangerous and irritating unless the creativity is really good," said Doug Jaeger, interactive creative director for advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day.
He said repetitive campaigns like the pop-under ads for X10 wireless cameras "almost abuse a technology and a format." X10 officials did not return calls for comment.
A study by Cyveillance, an Internet measurement company, found that 30 percent of the top U.S. sites and 13 percent of all sites use pop-up or pop-under windows.
Five percent trap users at Web sites through such techniques as disabling the "back" button, sometimes accidentally. Others change home-page settings or place software on a user's computer without clearly getting the user's permission.
Others are simply alienated.
"The companies I see marketing with pop-up ads definitely will not get a customer from me," said Jouni Paakkinen, the Finnish Webmaster for an unofficial "Simpsons" fan site.