'Annoying waste of money that makes you hate advertisers' shockPop-up ads have long been known as the black sheep of internet advertising but according to web-behaviour research, pop-ups could do more than just annoy casual surfers - they could actually be harming businesses that advertise or host them.
A recent report from Forrester research showed that 64 per cent of web users found the advertising format irritating but advertisers are still finding it difficult to wean themselves away from pop-ups, believing they grab users' attention better than banner advertising.
However, a research report from web-behaviour company Bunnyfoot Universality, The efficacy of pop-ups and the resulting effects on brands, shows that pop-ups rarely have time to load before a web surfer has closed them down - half clicked off before the ad was fully loaded.
Users' lack of patience with pop-ups seems to have gone unnoticed among advertisers. The average time for a pop-up to display the company's logo was 8.5 seconds but the time taken for a user to shut the ad down was just 2.5 seconds.
According to the report, pop-ups ranged from the merely annoying to the downright harmful to a company's brand, with 60 per cent of users saying that they mistrusted any company that uses - or even hosts - pop-ups.
Rob Stevens, director of business behaviour at Bunnyfoot Universality, said that brands could be doing themselves irreparable damage by refusing to give up pop-ups. "Brands are undoubtedly committing commercial suicide by insisting on using pop-ups. The effect of such techniques goes way beyond annoying the user; they frustrate, they impose and they engender mistrust. Pop-ups are therefore not just a huge waste of money; they are also extremely negative for a brand," he said in a statement.
For those advertisers looking purely at the bottom line, the research shows only 2 per cent of users remembered the brand that the pop-up was advertising.
Web surfers are voting with their feet - or rather their software. According to the Forrester report, 14 per cent of web users have anti-pop-up software on their machines - a year ago, it was just 1 per cent.
Hosting and portal companies are also getting the message. MSN announced earlier this month that it would be phasing out pop-ups and pop-unders across its sites worldwide and Bill Gates has been showing off the new security features in the Windows Service Pack 2 - which has a pop-up blocker thrown in for good measure.