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Thinly Read

Pop-up mania
Scripps Howard News Service


April 21, 2005

It's the most noticed and least effective advertisement out there.

Most people remember their first experience with the Internet, or possibly even their first email. But virtually no one remembers their first pop-up ad. And that is just one small indication of the pop-up's uselessness as an advertising medium.

The original pop-up was simply a little advertisement that appeared on your screen along with whatever webpage you opened. At first, it was just an extra window that you had to close. You never really looked at the ad; you simply closed the box and continued with your day.

The problem, advertisers assumed, was quantity. Soon, two or three windows would open with whatever paged you viewed. Still, it was merely two or three additional clicks to life as usual.

Next, advertisers began cramming as many popups into one webpage as possible. The logic behind the wall of 6,000 popups is not that the sheer number will convince you to buy a product. Instead, sellers know you will inadvertently click on one popup while trying to close the other 5,999. At that point, you are directed to the advertised webpage or product, and somehow convinced to make a purchase.

Oddly enough, this didn't work either. And over time, people became exceptionally talented at closing the little boxes. So advertisers made the boxes nearly impossible to close, by obscuring the magic "x" as much as possible. Web surfers would now spend up to five full minutes studying a popup they wanted to close, never knowing what it advertised.

Having exhausted these options, web vendors decided to ignore the Geneva Convention and move directly on to torture.

These are the most insidious ads; those that would drive a man possessing the patience of a Buddhist monk to beat his personal computer with incense and prayer beads. They include the mover, the shaker, and the screen overtaker.

The mover is that little bugger that mysteriously appears directly beneath your mouse. It crawls over from one side of the page or slowly expands to obscure an interesting article. It seems to say "Oh, were you reading that? Sorry. Hey, want some Viagra?" If you plan on finishing that article, you'd better print it out.

The shaker plays on man's natural tendency to look when something moves just outside of his peripheral vision. This genetic trait, originally designed protect us from fast-moving mastodons, now prevents us from reading anything while an advertisement shimmies in the background. Avoiding the shaker requires a post-it note placed strategically on your monitor.

Lastly, there's the screen overtaker. The screen overtaker does not mess around. When it appears, in encompasses the entire screen from bottom to top. It will cover not only your Internet Explorer, but the document you were pretending to work on as well.

If it comes with sound, the screen overtaker poses a very good chance of getting you fired. At this point, you'd do well to "accidentally" step on your surge protector. Sure, that 20 page report is gone. But your job is still here.

It is beyond comprehension that these ads are still out there, and even worse that they're evolving. They can drive you to violence, drive you to a seizure, or even drive you out of a job, but they'll never drive anyone to buy.

Still, there's one product in particular that these suckers might manage to sell. The pop-up ad for a pop-up blocker would be hard to resist.


Ben Grabow writes for the young, the urban, and the easily amused.
Contact him at thinlyread(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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