MSN pulls the plug on interruptive ad formats

MSN pulls the plug on interruptive ad formats

Software giant, MSN, is set to phase out pop-up and pop-under web ads after internal research revealed that customers' were irritated by the format. (Hey! Tell us something we didn’t know).

The much maligned ad format will also be banned on MSN's Nordic and Belgian sites, extending to all territories in the coming months, the firm said.

The ban doesn't include rich-media over-the-page creative.

"Some countries have existing deals with advertisers that they'll need to honour, but by June all pop-ups and pop-unders will be gone, and the majority will be removed in the next couple of weeks," said Chris Dobson, general manager of digital marketing sales and trade marketing at MSN International.

"We need to move our advertising customers onto a different format. Advertisers realise that if we don't protect our assets, we're destroying the goose that lays the golden eggs."

MSN, which has about 350 million global visitors to its sites, started to block pop-ups on its US sites at the end of 2003.

They are the latest Internet unit to jump on the bandwagon after AOL began blocking the ads from its US portal last year.

Rival portal Yahoo! has no plans to follow suit, but claimed that the number of requests for interruptive ad formats has fallen significantly in the past 18 months.

“The main portals don't want to lose users and media agencies are also looking to move away from pop-ups,” said Alison Ray, sales director for Yahoo!.

The backlash against the pop-up format comes amid resurgence in Internet advertising, the lifeblood of the majority of online businesses.

Spreading like a rash across the Internet since the early days of the web, the intrusive design of the pop-up format has proved a major turn-off to consumers of online advertising.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recommends that users should never see more than three pop-ups in a half-hour period.

Chief executive Danny Meadows-Klue said MSN was “already well above that threshold”.

The importance of a successful online adverting model can even be seen on paper.

For example, last week, Microsoft reported in a Security and Exchange Commission document its MSN division generated a $79m (£41m) operating loss in the quarter ended 31 December.

But revenues jumped 16 percent year-on-year in the quarter to $546m as it shifted focus on boosting advertising revenue and developing subscription-based services.

As a result, advertisers and Internet media executives have been trying to develop alternatives to the "pop-up" and "pop-under" formats.

Microsoft has recently been working with Unicast, to come up with a totally new online advertising format consisting of 30 second-long TV-style ads that appear at random when users click on certain websites.

The new video ads are currently being tested on 15 sites, including MSN, ABCNews, Pepsi and Honda.

It seems unlikely that the mosquito-like pop-up will disappear overnight, as it is still seen by many advertisers as an effective technique for some campaigns.

Yet the ban by MSN is a undeniable sign of departure from a medium that has been trashed by consumers. To persist in flooding the Internet with a format that consumers find so irritating runs the risk of biting the very hand that feeds it.

Sources: BBC Online, New Media Age, Reuters, ZDNet

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