November 20, 2005
Intrusiveness vs. Relevance

An interesting shift in attitudes is revealed in a story on Google ads in The New York Times. Remember pop-under ads from way back in 2001?

In a survey in mid-2001, X10's company Web site was the fourth-most visited in the online universe, though the statistics did not distinguish between voluntary and inadvertent visits. Its apparent success led some in the advertising industry to publicly endorse the loathsome pop-under. Brian McAndrews, the chief executive of the online ad agency Avenue A, was quoted in Advertising Age in 2001 as saying, "Just because something is intrusive doesn't mean it's bad."

This is the same man, four years later:

Mr. McAndrews, the onetime defender of intrusive pop-unders, has taken note. He is now the head of aQuantive, the parent of Avenue A/Razorfish. When reminded last week of his past statement that intrusive-doesn't-mean-bad, Mr. McAndrews said, "I've evolved my thinking. The key is no longer intrusiveness; today the mantra is relevance." No ad is more relevant to a user than that linked to a Web search, he said.

Of course, the key never was intrusiveness, and while I'm sure X10 got some business out of spamming the known universe and making it nigh-impossible to close a web browser, I can't imagine that the proportion of people who inadvertently went to their site and then actually bought something was particuarly high. There's a lesson to be found in the success of Google ads, if one cares to look.