What's With Those X10.com Ads?

Quick, name a Web site that gets more hits than Amazon.com, eBay and AltaVista.

Did you guess X10.com? For that matter, have you even heard of X10.com?

If you have, it's almost certainly because of the bombardment of "pop-under" ads that X10 Technologies, a Seattle-based online retailer, has been using to blanket the Web this year. Indeed, if you've been surfing the Web at all in recent months, particularly on major media sites, you've almost certainly seen the X10.com ads, which open up a new browser window on your computer.

"Tiny Wireless camera — Goes Almost Anywhere!" says a typical one. "Use it for fun. Use it for security." And through the "lens" of a camera, a smiling female model peers out at the audience.

News Site Nixes X10.com Bedroom Talk

Even though 2001 has seen a flurry of experimentation regarding the format of online ads, the X10.com pop-unders are drawing a lot of attention — for better or for worse.

"It is the most prevalent and intrusive sneak-attack advertising I've ever seen," says analyst Patrick Keane, who studies online advertising for Internet research firm Jupiter Media Metrix in New York.

Vote: Annoying or Necessary?

Web Pages, Or Not?

Unlike the smaller panels typical of most pop-up ads, X10.com's ads are functioning Web pages, with the URL visible at the top of the browser.

That's why Jupiter Media Metrix decided to count X10.com's pop-up ads as Web page hits. According to their ratings, the site had 28.6 million unique visitors in May, a nearly double their numbers in each of the two previous months: 15.3 million in April and 8.4 million in March.

"We feel it's important to report on new evolutionary ads and marketing campaigns, things that move the Web forward," says a spokeswoman for Jupiter.

For the month, it rates X10.com as the fifth-most popular site on the Web, behind only America Online, Microsoft's various sites, Yahoo! and Lycos.

But California-based rival Nielsen/NetRatings, another company measuring Internet traffic, decided not to count the X10.com ads as page views. It says the site had just 12 percent as many visitors: 3.54 million in May.

Nielsen/NetRatings spokeswoman Maria Bumatay says the company considers the lower number to be "most reflective of the actual traffic that goes to the site."

Bumatay notes that the ubiquitous ads "can be served from different sites, not necessarily coming from X10.com … Our first goal is to make sure we are portraying a user's behavior."

Saturation Bombing at Cheap Rates

Regardless of how you count the numbers, X10.com's saturation-bombing strategy stands out during a year in which online advertising, industry observers agree, has dropped significantly.

However, X10 has not released any information about the cost and scope of its ads — although, as Lynch notes, given the current online ad slump, "They're buying with extremely cheap rates."

Company representatives did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for an interview. And since X10 is privately held, it is difficult to evaluate what impact, if any, the massive ad campaign has had on its sales or bottom line.

The company does seem aware that ubiquitous ads can also annoy Web surfers. The X10.com Web site even includes instructions (in the "About Us" section) telling users how to prevent the ads from popping up for 30 days at a time.

"Even by our more conservative measures their traffic has jumped," says Peggy O'Neill, director and principal analysts at Nielsen Netratings. "But the fact that they had to put special instructions on their Web site about how to block it may mean that they've been getting a negative reaction."