October 14, 2004 10:00 AM PDT

Revenge of the pop-ups

It's been barely two months since Microsoft made a pop-up blocker available for its Internet Explorer browser--but Web advertisers have already found a way to slip their loathed marketing pitches past it.

Service Pack 2 (SP2), Microsoft's security update to Windows and Internet Explorer, recently armed 40 million people with tools to automatically suppress advertising windows that spring up, over or behind requested Web pages. Couple that with the millions who have downloaded free pop-up-blocking toolbars from Google, Yahoo, MSN and others, and nearly half the Web audience in the United States has voted against pop-up ads, according to several estimates from ad-serving companies.


What's new:
Web advertisers are already turning the tables on tools that aim to block out their most effective--and annoying--pitches.

Bottom line:
While the pop-up inventory has shrunk in recent months, it's been a boon for small and midsize publishers and desktop software makers that still serve the ads.

More stories on this topic

But when there's a will, there's a way.

Some publishers, still clinging to the ad revenue from pop-ups, are exploiting a workaround in IE and other Web browsers to send pop-up ads despite blocking software. In one example, visitors to the Drudge Report Web site who use the Service Pack version of IE or Mozilla.org's Firefox browser with a pop-up blocker will nevertheless receive a pop-under ad if they click a link on the page.

"Pop-ups are a cat-and-mouse game," said Bart Decrem, a spokesman for the Mozilla Foundation, creator of Firefox. "We are continually improving our pop-up blocker, and content developers are constantly developing a way to get around the pop-up blockers."

The mice are scoring points. Several online ad-serving and media executives said that while the pop-up inventory has shrunk in recent months, it hasn't fallen as dramatically as one might expect with installations of SP2 and other blocking technology. And according to figures from researcher Nielsen/NetRatings, pop-up and pop-under advertising comprised 6 percent of the total online ad impressions in September, the same as it did in October of 2003.

What's more, the slight market contraction has been a boon for small and midsize publishers, and desktop software makers, that still serve the ads. According to several Internet publishers and ad networks, they've raised rates on pop-ups and pop-unders by between 10 percent and 30 percent in recent months. And desktop software makers such as Claria, formerly Gator, are sold out of their inventory, according to sources.

"Pop-up blockers have affected our delivery of pops and, as a result, we have increased the (cost per impression) by as much as 30 percent," said C.J. Wolf, CEO of iWin.

Other ad executives are happy not only about the increase in rates but also by the performance of the ads. "What is also affecting the price is the fact that individuals who are not using pop-up blockers are more likely to be those users who have traditionally found them to be less annoying and intrusive," said Chris Berman, of the ad network Dedicated LA, who said that on average, 50 percent to 60 percent of Web users are now actively using pop-up blockers.

"What we are seeing is not just a shortage of supply but also an increase in performance," Berman said.

Puncturing pop-ups
Pop-ups have played a controversial role in the world of online advertising since the dot-com bust, when the ads started coming out in force. At the time, Net publishers of all stripes were starved for ad revenue and willing to let advertisers get in their visitors' faces. Consumers complained loudly, and publishers slightly acquiesced by introducing the less-intrusive pop-under, which springs up behind a Web page.

Eventually, the backlash forced major publishers, such as Yahoo, MSN and America Online, to rethink their pop policies altogether. In the last year, many top-tier publishers have stopped selling pop-ups or pop-unders. Meanwhile, smaller publishers have chosen to limit the frequency with which they show the ads.

The pullback, however, hasn't curbed demand from direct marketers, ad executives say. Advertisers such as X10, Orbitz and Netflix have built businesses around blanketing the Web with promotional windows and driving clicks. That demand is still extremely high among direct marketers, because pop-ups and pop-unders are among the most effective ads on the Internet, garnering click rates two to 10 times higher than standard banners, in some cases.

"Sure, it's effective, and so was Tony Soprano's style of management," said Greg Stuart, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which has introduced guidelines for pops-ups and pop-unders. "I don't believe in effectiveness at any cost. Some people are abusing the medium."

The money is tough to pass up for some publishers, however.

The Drudge Report, which did not return a request for comment, is using JavaScript to build in a command for an extra promotional pop when people click on a story. The action is based on user request for the data, instead of issuing a pop arbitrarily, a technique that is widely used elsewhere.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company has received few complaints about such tricks, but he said people still might get pop-ups from intranet applications or spyware installed on their machines. "Our sense is also that many unwanted pop-ups are those that are opened via a user click (for example, click a link to a new page, on navigation, a pop-up is opened.) We needed to allow these for site compatibility," he said, adding that stricter blocking controls in advanced settings let people stop this, too.

"When this setting is enabled, an override key can be depressed while clicking a link," he said.

A major source of pop-up advertising is desktop applications, which are not generally affected by browser-based pop-up blockers. Software makers like Claria and WhenU blanket their users with 10 to 20 new browser pops a day while they surf the Web. The desktop software ad market has been in high demand, too. According to Claria's S-1 initial public offering filing from earlier this year, the company reported profits of about $35.6 million last year on revenue of about $90 million. The company also has 425 advertisers, including Cendant and pending acquiree Orbitz.

A new approach
While some ad companies are figuring out workarounds to deliver pop-ups, others are developing new ad formats.

Roy de Souza, CEO of ad technology company Zedo, said his company has created a so-called intromercial that acts much like a pop-up but doesn't spawn an added window. When a visitor requests a Web page, the intromercial will appear before the requested content. "So far, it's the most popular alternative to pop-unders," he said.

Undertone Networks, one of the largest providers of pop-unders, is making up for a shortfall in inventory by selling formats like the intromercial to its clients, which include ESPN and Fox News, according to company CEO Michael Cassidy.

He said that for pop-unders, the company has raised rates by 10 percent to 15 percent, or to about $7 for every thousand delivered. (A year ago, advertisers could buy pop-unders by the thousand for about $2.50, by some estimates.)

Falk eSolutions, which sells technology to deliver online ads, has said its software will deliver "the guaranteed pop." When its ad server detects pop-up blocking software on a person's machine, it will deliver what's called a floating ad, or rich-media ad, instead. Many publishers such as Ifilm and AtomShockwave are practicing this technique so as not to lose ad revenue.

And then there's just plan old trickery, like that of the Drudge Report.

"If adopted by other Web sites, pop-ups will be back," said Richard Smith, a security consultant who operates the site ComputerBytesMan.com.


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
What's wrong with people?
The only reason these things are still around is that some people
are patronizing these advertisers. Who are these idiots? I never
click on them, and if I ever see a popup, I boycott the site. If
everyone did the same, the problem would go away tomorrow.

The more I see the more I am convinced that a surprising
number of my fellow human beings simply lack the insight to act
in their own best interests.

I guess that explains the state of our government.
Posted by (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The problem
The problem is that far too many people surf the internet like they watch TV. They reflexively click on whatever catches their eye whether it be something interesting or just a banner ad. They seek the path of most eye candy rather than the path of least annoyance because they arent actually trying to get anywhere or find anything theyre just looking for entertainment in whatever form it appears (Im also quite convinced that they dont actually read the internet, just look at the pictures and page designs).
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
Link Flag
I boycott the site
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/miele_vacuum_cleaner_manuals.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/miele_vacuum_cleaner_manuals.htm</a>
Posted by Ipod Apple (152 comments )
Link Flag
What popups?
I'm running Windows XP SP2 with the popup blocker at the "High" level, and have yet to receive one popup that I did not authorize. I went to the Drudge Report web site, and clicked on various links, and did not receive a single popup which was not blocked by IE SP2.

Go to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.popuptest.com," target="_newWindow">http://www.popuptest.com,</a> and you'll be able to test your popup blocker. None of them defeated my SP2 popup blocker, whereas previously a few of them slipped past the Google toolbar popup blocker.
Posted by loose_screw (1381 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Boycott sites with popups
There may be some sites with popups that we THINK we cannot live without, but we can do without sites that promote popups. We need to stop rewarding bad behavior by not patronizing these sites until they stop using popups.
Posted by gtfvbhy (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The only purpose circumventing popup blocking software serves is...
to annoy the visitor and make them think twice about visiting the site again. I've canceled accounts at sites the circumvent Mozilla's popup blocker.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly! I think spammers and pop-up advertisers are missing some higher brain functions. Do they think they can sell me things by treating me as an enemy on whom to play constant dirty tricks?
Posted by mcugaedu (75 comments )
Link Flag
canceled accounts at sites
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/mercury_villager_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/mercury_villager_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ipod Apple (152 comments )
Link Flag
Runnigh FireFox 1.0pr
I have not had one pop up, and I tried the pop up test and passed all of them, and the drudge report didn't do jack to my system..
Posted by saleen351 (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pop-ups, are one of the biggest waste of internet bandwidth today. If an advertiser wants to put a link for visitors to click on a website, that's fine. If advertisers want to make money, sell a product that people want. But to force visitors to view their trash is totally unacceptable to me. I personally stay away from sites that use pop-ups and use Firefox for added privacy. Sneaky pop-ups and pop-unders should be illegal with jail time and large fines.
Posted by tripqzon (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
read the title. Why waste money on stupid software that does not work. IE already has a blocker. Yah it may be a hassle to go through the security settings to turn it back on when you need it, but it still works and is the best way.
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think you missed the point...
Read the news story. People are circumventing IE's pop-up blocker (and any other pop-up blocker) by putting ads right in the chain of things you have to click through to get to the content.

While you could turn off all types of scripting, you would then be unable to use the full functionality of numerous web sites. Don't you do any online banking, for instance? You generally need scripting for the bank's user interface to work.

The point is, advertisers are making us do more work. They're not winning our loyalty or affection by doing it!
Posted by mcugaedu (75 comments )
Link Flag
I Must be lucky
I installed SP2 and with the Blocker set to only medium I do NOT receive any pop-ups or pop-unders. Did I miss something?

I even googled Drudge report and hit every link it proposed without a problem. even sites I used to visit and receive pop-ups and pop-unders while using other blockers don't produce them anymore with the SP2 blocker.

These people must be doing something wrong like enabling scripting or something. But then I have java enabled on mine too.
Posted by William Kerr (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I installed SP2
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/mercury_sable_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/mercury_sable_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ipod Apple (152 comments )
Link Flag
Not to mention...
This also doesn't mention entirely fraudulent 'pop-ups' which disguise themselves as &#8220;Microsoft Windows messages&#8221;. I have dissected a few of these and most often they directly load &#8220;Spyware&#8221; or &#8220;Pop-up servers&#8221;, ...if the victim (PC user) clicks anywhere in the &#8216;BOGUS SYSTEM MESSAGE&#8217; (...by clicking the fake &#8216;CANCEL&#8217;, or &#8216;IGNORE&#8217; buttons, for example).

I&#8217;ve had to clean, and even completely re-install, several client-machines because of this phenomena (plus, imagine trying to explain to a client that they must DISTRUST everything they see on their own computer-screens, ...if they&#8217;re running &#8216;Windows&#8217;, use &#8216;IE&#8217;, and have a broadband-connection) . And, YES&#8230; this IS after loading ALL of the latest 'patches', &#8216;Service-packs&#8217;, and turning-off ALL non-essential services.

This is a NIGHTMARE that has to be better addressed, both by lawmakers, AND the companies that have created the doorway for this 'POP-UP NIGHTMARE', ...in the first-place.
Posted by Raife (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not to Mention 2 (cleaned-up version)...
Sorry for the first post. I made the mistake of running it through "MS-OFFICE" for a quick 'spell-check' This inserted 'hidden-characters', which were carried through the 'clip-board', ...hidden, and inserted into the 'text-box' on the webpage, ...still hidden, ...until after I posted.

Here's the original post...

This also doesn't mention entirely fraudulent 'pop-ups' which disguise themselves as 'Microsoft Windows messages'.

I have dissected a few of these and, most often, they directly load 'Spyware' or 'Pop-up servers', 'if the victim (PC user) clicks anywhere in the 'BOGUS SYSTEM MESSAGE' (by clicking the fake 'CANCEL', or 'IGNORE' buttons, for example).

I've had to clean, and even completely re-install, several client-machines because of this phenomena (plus, imagine trying to explain to a client that they must DISTRUST everything they see on their computer-screens if, 'they're running 'Windows', 'IE', and have a broadband-connection) . And, YES' this IS after loading ALL of the latest-patches, 'Service-packs', installing 'pop-up blockers', and trying to turn-off ALL non-essential services.

This is a NIGHTMARE that has to be better addressed, both by lawmakers, AND the companies that have created the 'doorway' for this 'POP-UP NIGHTMARE', ...in the first-place.
Posted by Raife (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You can't stop commercialism everywhere
People, we live in a capitalist country. Of course companies are going to try and get you to buy their stuff. That's how it works. Boycotting site with a lot of popups won't stop it, but complaining to the site manager might. The only way to eliminate ads from appearing on your browser is by using ad blocking programs. Better ones, that will really do the trick. Go out and find them, there are scads of them. I like the Proxomitron and the Protowall. They are both free and have worked flawlessley for me, and both contain no adware or spyware, something to be wary about then downloading freeware off the web. Try these two out to your liking, get rid of them if you don't like them.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, Firefox 1.0 made the difference
I was using Firefox 0.8 (ok, so I'm a bit behind, but that's how GOOD it works!), and tried the drudgereport, and saw the popunder. Sent them a "thanks, you just lost another reader" email, then went ahead and upgraded to Firefox 1.0PR - and sure enough, it blocked that sucker!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
you just lost another reader
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/mercury_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/mercury_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ipod Apple (152 comments )
Link Flag
I type in "buy pop unders", and this what I get?
I typed in "buy pop unders and this is what I get? Pop-ups are totally annoying. But, it's not that hard to turn them off. Then you'll never have to deal with that annoying stuff again. Pop unders aren't that bad. You don't even know that they're loading, or that they're even on your page until you close out the screen you're looking at.

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Posted by ftsatosnat (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
it's not that hard to turn them off
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/nakamichi/nakamichi_zx9_service_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/nakamichi/nakamichi_zx9_service_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ipod Apple (152 comments )
Link Flag
so true...
and the threat runs MUCH deeper than just popups.
just check out how SLOWLY microsoft wakes up and starts recommending turning off APIs they graciously enabled originally at OUR expense.

-but who bothers with "those pesky settings that BREAK the precious browser...", or has any clue that the default settings have continually evolved as MS gets tagged with identification of yet another hole in their browser that does not protect the user from malicious site behavior.

fact is, most users LACK the understanding of what ANY of it means, and just want a FULL internet experience, by following all the cows dressed in their king's new clothes.
Posted by zzeon (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
continually evolved
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/mercedes_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/mercedes_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ipod Apple (152 comments )
Link Flag
Popup Payback.
I have created a personal website and can't understand why it's ok for advertisers to have popups when my web page opens or when a link is clicked. I did not authorize them and I am not getting compensated from the advertisers. My site is a small comedy site at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.dontforgettolaugh.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.dontforgettolaugh.com</a>
I feel that there must be a legal way for me to do one of the following.
1. Create a program that bounces the popup back to its origination to over burden the advertiser's site with their own popups.
2. Setup a site/forum where people can report advertisers that use popups and suggest boycotting their products.
Any suggestions or thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Popup Hater
Posted by Popup Hater (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Try the Google Toolbar. I haven't seen a pop-up in many moons. You can turn them on or turn them off very easily.
Posted by Karridog (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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