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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Pop-ups chase eyeballs
Schoolchildren using a computer
Children attracted to flashy graphics on the web
Pop-ups have become a favoured way to get the message on the web. But BBC World ClickOnline's Ian Hardy wonders whether pop-ups are overrated.
Pop-ups, adverts that appear when you click on a webpage, are everywhere on your screen these days.

Suddenly from nowhere they flash, distract and annoy millions of computer users worldwide.

The creative community is constantly working on ways to entice people of all ages to click on the advertisements.

Their ideas are getting cleverer and funnier and are being fined tuned to find our weak spots.

Pop-ups and banner ads, which only began appearing in 1995, are merely the first attempts at interactive communication, which will become even more sophisticated in the future.

Web tricks

Some ads are pretty devious already, and they include copycat visual elements of the PC and Mac operating system.

For example you may think you are closing the window but actually all you have done is click a false cross put there deliberately by the designer.

"I do think that kind of advertising is misleading," said David Moore, the boss of one of the biggest pop-up serving companies in America, 24/7 Real Media.

"It backfires more often than not because if I think I'm shutting the window down by clicking the X and I'm in fact taken to another place, I'm not a happy guy and I'm probably even more intent of getting rid of that ad."

Blame the children

After being flooded by boxes of all shapes and sizes, many people have got into the habit of instantly closing down the advertisements.

So how come they are still a very popular form of advertising? The answer may be because of children.


I would suggest that children are a lot more sophisticated in their use of the internet, and their savviness about it than adults are

Brad Johnson, Advertising Age
A study released earlier this year by web consultancy the Nielsen Norman Group found that much of the clickthrough traffic on internet advertising is down to children.

This is because they cannot distinguish between legitimate content and pop-ups or banner ads.

But advertising executives do not seem to be worried by the report.

"This is no different from what happens on television today. How many kids are exposed to an ad that have no ability to make a purchase or influence any decision at all?" Mr Moore asked.

"So I think that when this occurs on the web, it's not different than what happens in other media."

Sophisticated surfers

The report argued that adults quickly become blind to banners when exposed to web-based advertisements.

Escape key on keyboard
Many surfers resent pop-ups
It says children on the other hand have the opposite reaction. They are drawn to the animations, eye-popping visuals and simplistic words in big fonts.

But not everybody agrees that youngsters can be fooled that easily.

"I would suggest that children are a lot more sophisticated in their use of the internet, and their savviness about it than adults are," said Brad Johnson of Advertising Age.

"But advertisers and marketers beware. If you manipulate kids they are going to remember and are not going to let you get away with it."


What you said about pop-ups:

I cannot believe these ads are effective. I close the things before the content even finishes loading. Most people I know never click on them or have pop-up killers installed.
Nick, UK


Pop-ups are at best an annoyance and at worst a plague of junk that clogs up the internet and chokes bandwidth.

Fred, England
Imagine someone wandering round a library dropping advertising flyers into the books people were reading - they'd soon be kicked out
Nigel, UK

Pop-ups are real annoyance to me. Some sites are flooded with pop-ups and one wastes lots of time closing them. Websites should give users the say in whether they want to view these or not. Also some websites uses pop-ups for users to select options for their website, I find even those very annoying. I feel it is not all that annoying if an advertisement or important information implemented on the main browser page and highlighted. I hope that one day internet companies would evolve and leave the pop-ups behind
Amir, Northern Ireland

Pop-ups are at best an annoyance and at worst a plague of junk that clogs up the internet and chokes bandwidth. The worst thing about it is that the majority of people have to pay to download this unsolicited rubbish. It should be treated as it is, just more spam.
Fred, England


I'm sick of pop-up adverts, and it's true about how they lure children

Colin, UK
I just click close most of the time, but there are pop-up and banner blockers available to stop the things from appearing. Most ads seem to be from American companies anyway. I have a fast internet connection so they just appear but they are a real pain on a modem where it often takes longer for the actual page you want to load up to appear.
Matt, UK

I'm sick of pop-up adverts, and it's true about how they lure children - there is one advert in particular that appears legitimate to adult eyes, saying that your computer is at risk or something similar to that, and when my 11-year-old nephew saw this, he was naturally concerned for my PC, and thought it best to click away. The result was a program installing itself on my PC. This has to be the most infuriating aspect of browsing today - advertisers not bothering to ask if you want their product - it just plonks itself on your hard drive! Another thing, pop-up adverts are doing now is popping up in a window that is larger than the screen size you're viewing, hence also obliterating the Start bar at the bottom, so that you've got nothing to click on to get rid of it, other than Alt-Tabbing your way out. The should be a law against it.
Colin, Burntwood, UK

These adverts are a complete waste of time, and I take great pleasure in tweaking my firewall and anti-ad software to keep them out.
James Atkinson, UK

Pop-ups are indeed very annoying. Thank God there's an easy way to get rid of them - use Mozilla, it has a feature to disable "unwanted" windows.
Henri, Finland


The only way to keep a "free" website running is by having advertising on it and that means pop-ups

Marcus, UK
They ruin the internet experience and waste time and money. I do not wish to be rudely interrupted by these ads which on the whole are inappropriate
Dino, England

Everybody wants to view websites for free. But unfortunately they cost money to run, and the only way to keep a "free" website running is by having advertising on it and that means pop-ups. Everybody who complains about them wants to get something for nothing. If they want to view free websites they shouldn't complain about advertising and if they don't want advertising they should start paying for the service.
Marcus, UK

What about the new breed of ads, the ones which float on a layer above the page you're reading? You have no choice but to watch them. Advertisers should remember that traditional advertising works at a subconscious level - those non-intrusive ads you see in football stadia or on billboards. They (supposedly) influence your decision to buy a particular brand name when you next go to buy a product. Pop-up adverts make me deliberately not buy from a company as a protest.
Jane, UK


What people don't realise is that advertisers know that pop-ups are annoying, that's why they use them

Matthew, UK
Everyone knows that pop-ups are a bad thing, in that they annoy users and don't work, except apparently the senior executives in the companies that put them there. With so many senior executives so out of touch with reality, is it any wonder that the stock market is going the way it is?
Adam, UK

What people don't realise is that advertisers know that pop-ups are annoying, that's why they use them. Television adverts are often very annoying too, usually this is a deliberate ploy by the advertiser; to get an emotional response. What advertisers don't want is for their adds to go unnoticed. I advise anyone to get a pop-up stopper of some sort installed on their PC and never to click through these annoyances.
Matthew, UK

If you don't like them folks, then vote with your feet and stop using sites where they are a problem. Even better, e-mail the site owners and explain that this is what you have done and why. Until the message gets through that pop-ups (as distinct from other ads) are unacceptable then site designers will continue to use them
Paul, UK

Who ever thought that it would be a good idea to have a second advert that pops up when you close the first advert should be paraded in public and pelted with bottle tops
Jamie, UK

For anyone who's sick to the back teeth with banner ads I recommend using the freeware products Adshield and Ad-aware. They've made my browsing 90% less troublesome.
Ed Brown, UK

What most people who have commented so far have not realised is that in many cases the adverts fund the website they are visiting. Without the adverts there, then the chances are the people who run the site will not be able to afford to continue running it. The alternative is to pay to look at a website that may or may not have any useful information on it, which seems pretty preposterous to me. Web adverts are getting pretty smart these days, I have seen a few of them based on Macromedia Flash which really jump out at you when you're reading the page. At first you're impressed but then you realise it's another advert and it just gets closed.
Chris, UK


ClickOnline is broadcast on BBC World at various times across the world.


Background
See also:

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17 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
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