Ad Report Card: Pop Life

Normally the Ad Report Card concerns itself with television advertising. Today we take a detour to examine the recent acceleration of a trend in online ads: little commercials that “pop up” not in a little box in front of whatever Web page you’re looking at, but in a window behind your browser. The version of the ad that I (and others, as noted below) have been seeing almost constantly is for a “Tiny Wireless Video Camera” that “Fits anywhere!” Here’s a link if you’d like to see for yourself.

The ad: It’s pretty straightforward, and apart from the text I mentioned above, it features very little besides a picture of a small round camera, the XCam2, and a button to click for more information. What this gizmo does is “transmit live color video and crisp audio signals up to 100 feet.” One thing you can do, then, is leave the camera in one room while you see what it sees on a monitor in another room. Thus you can “monitor your children.” Or spy on your roommate.

Inescapable: Not being in the market to monitor or spy on anyone, I wasn’t too interested in the product. But I was slightly interested in the placement of the ad, popping up behind my browser. I got more interested as it gradually started to seem to me that this thing was popping up at least 10 times a day as I clicked around the Web in the course of my normal, uh, work day. Similar reports surfaced elsewhere at Moneybox headquarters: My girlfriend, E, was complaining about the same ad. Then a friend of mine sent me an e-mail to similar effect. Finally, after a round of groaning about the very same ads, a way to get rid of them (which I’ll get to) surfaced over the weekend on the Web site MetaFilter.

Pop ratings: Certainly, then, the ad has been getting people’s attention. And E confessed to having clicked through to see what exactly it was that was being advertised. On the other hand, while people seemed to be increasingly aware of this thing sold at, the quality they seemed most likely to associate with it was annoyingness. Interestingly, even the makers of the XCam2 appeared to have had some idea this would happen—an area on the company’s site is set up in a frequently-asked-questions style, and the hypothetical queries are not flattering to the advertiser. (“Is this form of advertising illegal? Is this a virus? Will this cause any damage to my PC?”) There’s even a link there to turn the ads “off,” for 30 days at least. (In the MetaFilter thread linked to above, there’s some discussion of how to turn it off for a longer period; I wrote about MetaFilter a while ago in the context of blogs as news sources as this is definitely the kind of information that MetaFilter distributes quickly and effectively.) Anyway, it’s peculiar to find a firm openly admitting how bothersome its own marketing is and offering a remedy.

So how to grade such a thing? An obvious strength of this new gimmick, from the advertisers’ point of view, is that regular pop-up ads, which materialize in front of a Web page, are easily clicked away by quick-reflexed surfers before they can even load an image. These new ones can take shape before you’re even aware of them, so at least there’s the fleeting impression of a completed ad there when you get rid of the thing. (And this ad is not the only member of the new breed of popsters—here’s another one I got yesterday.) And I give these guys some credit for making it possible to disable the annoyance. But still, I can’t pretend to be pleased about a new advertising maneuver cluttering up my computer desktop. So I’ll grudgingly offer a C-minus and hope that I’m not being too soft on virtual blight.