About twenty years ago, pop-up ads were all the rage.
Banner ads had failed to deliver clicks. The very first banner ad, placed on HotWired, Wired’s first web magazine, had a staggering click-through rate of 44%.
Everybody was absolutely sure that they had found the right formula. For reasons nobody cared to explain, consumers apparently loved to interact with online ads.
That’s why they had gone online in the first place, wasn’t it? They bought new computers, clunky modems and paid an internet subscription to… see more ads.
It was off to the races. Just about everybody and your uncle crafted business plans centred around showing more banner ads to consumers, also called eyeballs.
As it turned out, the first AT&T banner ad on HotWired was a fluke. People had not changed, like they rarely do. They were clicking just out of mere curiosity.
As curiosity died out, click-through rates plummeted. For a brief season, pop-up ads seemed to be the solution. Click rates were high and everybody got excited.
And why not? Those things were a thing of beauty, weren’t they? ;-)
Once the eyeballs stopped clicking came new ideas, like pop-under ads, fake “close” boxes, or ads that moved around the screen and would not let your mouse close them…
Then came Google
Opera, a small niche browser from Norway, started adding tools to block pop-up ads. But Microsoft’s then dominant Internet Explorer browser would have none of it.
Google had just launched Adwords, their textual ads placed above search engine results. Pop-up ads were in the same market: ugly, no doubt, but they delivered clicks.
In a brilliant move, Google created Google Toolbar, an add-on to IE that blocked pop-up ads. This allowed them to kill off the competition coming from pop-up ads, play nice guy towards users who were sick of the constant interruptions, place their logo in front of millions of users and softly push them to use their search engine more often.
How is this relevant today?
Today, reputable news outlets are seeing marketing budgets move towards small websites that produce questionable content — most of it bullshit — because a set of ad-tech technologies known as programmatic advertising are allowing marketers to target users that read serious newspapers on those websites, at much cheaper prices.
It’s almost 2020, and it’s high time for newspapers to pull a trick like Google did.
[ to be continued… ]