The Top 10 Most Annoying, Frustrating, Irritating, and Sinister Online Ads

They're well beyond bells and whistles: Advertisers are flashing, honking, slithering, and sometimes delivering malware to get your attention.

Today's annoying online ads are a mix of Big Brother meets Madison Avenue, old-fashioned in-your-face marketing, and tactics that are downright mean. I rounded up a list of today's ten most annoying online ad categories. Many of them may have you longing for the days when the most pesky ads promoted an X-10 wireless camera.

Some of these ads flash, blink, vibrate, and somersault around your browser window. Others expand, pop open a window (even if you have a pop-up blocker), and play sounds or video. The most sinister don't appear to do anything at all and quietly attempt to hijack your PC.

What's behind this new breed of advertising? Naturally, money is greasing the wheels of online ad innovation. Consider eMarketer's forecast", which indicates that U.S. Internet companies are spending US$21.4 billion in 2007 on online ads. That budget will grow--by 2011, an estimated US$42 billion will go toward online ads, according to eMarketer.

However, as you grind your teeth trying to ignore a banner for Smiley Central riddled with talking emoticons, keep in mind that as irritating as Web ads are, they help keep Web content free. Without them, we'd all have to pay a nickel every time we wanted to watch a YouTube video of people riding down escalators in shopping carts.

Even so, "rich media advertising" can consume a lot of CPU cycles and tax your system--never mind your patience. Other forms of online advertising, such as column ads (those adjacent to content on a page), often interfere with surrounding content. When online advertising goes too far, sometimes you have to fight back with ad-blocking tools.

What's too much advertising? What's the just the right amount? That's for you to decide.

1. Old-School, Annoying, Attention-Grabbing Ads

Recently I was having trouble focusing on the text of a CNN.com story. I quickly realized that my concentration troubles were due not to a bout of attention deficit disorder, but rather to a LowerMyBills ad that was blinking, jiggling, and dancing beside the text I was trying to read.

It occurred to me then: Why are online ads so obnoxious? The answer is, they work by grabbing our attention. Just as I can't ignore the silhouetted images of two-stepping cowboys in the LowerMyBills ads, the LowerMyBills brand is now stuck in my head like a song I hate and can't shake. (LowerMyBills would call that effective marketing).

Experts say that obtrusive ads are going out of vogue in exchange for ads tailored to the interests of individual Web users. If that's true, would someone please tell CNN.com? In the meantime, if you're interested in death by LowerMyBills ads, visit the Web site Adverlicio.us, which has archived nearly all the LowerMyBills ads.

2. Noisy Ads

Obnoxious isn't quite strong enough an adjective to describe ads that automatically start playing audio on my PC without any warning. I'm not naming names, but I've spotted such ads on plenty of sites. It leads me to wonder: Whose hair-brained idea was it to hijack my PC's audio, anyway?

If you want to place blame, start with the advertiser, of course, but then consider the Web site where the ad appears. According to online-ad experts, Web site owners set the policy governing the types of ads their pages display.

One online-advertising company, EyeWonder, says that about one out of ten video ads it creates on the behalf of its customers will initiate audio when you roll your pointer over the ad. Most advertisers provide a button to start the audio, says Jason Scheidt, director of marketing for EyeWonder.

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Tom Spring

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