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  1. #1
    ABW Ambassador affiliatemakeover's Avatar
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    January 18th, 2005
    Cleveland, OH

    No Good Reason To Muzzle This Gator
    November 20, 2002

    As an employee of a media company, I am all but duty-bound to despise Gator Corp.

    Gator is a California tech company that delivers a steady stream of pop-up ads when any of its 25 million subscribers visit certain Web pages. Go to, and you get a pop-up ad for rival Orbitz - a Gator client. Try to buy a bouquet at, and a pitch for jumps onto the screen. Visit a popular generic site, such as, and if you've signed up with Gator in exchange for free software, you might get ads for everything from rental cars to mortgage loans.

    In an early incarnation, Gator ads were popping up constantly on news publishers' websites, including those owned by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and my company, Tribune. Gator's ads naturally competed with the news sites' paid ads. So a dozen publishers banded together and, in a rare show of professional brotherhood, promptly sicked their lawyers on Gator.

    They called Gator a parasite. They accused the company of stealing intellectual property and interfering with business contracts. Worst of all, they said Gator's freeloading was costing them money. That's my money, I suppose.

    Still, though I hate to break ranks here, I'm siding with Gator on this one.

    I have no trouble understanding website owners' disdain for Gator; they're eyeball thieves, adept at getting subscribers to abandon one commercial site in favor of another.

    I just can't see how they're doing anything wrong.

    Consider the latest suit against Gator, filed last week by Six Continents Hotels, a company whose franchises include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental. Six Continents complains that Gator subscribers who visit the chains' websites may get a pop-up ad recommending, a discount-lodging website.

    "Gator's pop-up advertising scheme is designed to lure and divert Internet users from the websites they intend to visit to the websites owned by Gator's advertising clients," the lawsuit alleges.

    Well, yeah. That's kind of the idea.

    I know we're all Commies in the news business, but from what I recall of Econ 101, that's one of the fundamental tenets of free-market capitalism: targeting your competition's customers and getting 'em to switch.

    When I buy Haagen-Dazs ice cream at the store, I occasionally get a coupon at checkout offering a fat discount on Ben & Jerry's. Smart move. Adam Smith would approve.

    But imagine if Ben & Jerry's could send someone to the frozen food section to stick that coupon in my face before I toss the Haagen-Dazs into the cart?

    That just might benefit Ben & Jerry's - and it might benefit me, too.

    As long as the consumer agrees to it, that sort of micro-targeting fulfills one of the Web's many promises. And Gator says it's working, generating a response rate 20 times greater than traditional banner ads.

    The 4-year-old company says it has 400 clients.

    Some Web surfers undoubtedly cringe at the idea of having a huge computer somewhere crunching the meaning of their every mouse click. Even Gator's description of itself as a "behavioral marketing company" is a tad creepy.

    But if I'm about to make a purchase online and a competing retailer wants to chime in and sell it to me cheaper, bring it on. And if the pop-up ads come at my invitation, the offended websites have nothing to complain about.

    The bigger issue, then, is the obligation of Gator to assure that subscribers know what they're in for. Gator's "Offer Companion" software, which monitors Internet use and launches the pop-ups, is attached to a host of free programs available on the Internet, including Gator's own eWallet service, a modestly useful tool that automatically fills in a computer user's identifying information on websites.

    As part of those freebies, users get Offer Companion, billed as "your direct link to some of the Web's most valuable offers." Translation: Yippee! You're going to get more pop-up ads!

    Gator does a decent job of identifying its ads, which carry a disclaimer that the pop-ups come from Gator and are "not sponsored or displayed by or for the website you are viewing." That's good enough for me. But its sign-up practices could use an equal dose of transparency. With a claimed subscription base of 25 million, it's a fair bet that millions of subscribers downloaded Offer Companion without realizing what they were getting into.

    Gator also deserved to get smacked around for one early tactic: pasting its pitches on top of a site's existing banner ads, a move that almost certainly fooled some viewers into thinking the ads were part of the original page - and at least tacitly endorsed by the website.

    Gator has abandoned that practice. But the pop-ups continue, and with them, the lawsuits, from UPS, Weight Watchers and others. Each one offers fresh venom about Gator illegally altering copyrighted material and threatening the existence of free sites on the Internet.

    I know why they're so upset. But the truth is: Gator just built a better mousetrap.

    "I want to make you more money with a professional and low cost web design. Let's chat."

  2. #2
    2005 Linkshare Golden Link Award Winner  ecomcity's Avatar
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    January 18th, 2005
    St Clair Shores MI.
    Well the key point for all here to dwell on is this guy works of an media company who SELLS ADS NOT PRODUCTS. His kind, who don't have to justify the quality or impact his advertisers get in his rag, could care less about Gator Ads pooping up all over his sites supporters. Want to bet his reaction if the Tribune's Sunday Issue this weekend had advertising stuffers and half page inserts in the Holiday shopping section that someone without paying snuck into the paper....LOL

    WebMaster Mike

  3. #3
    ABW Ambassador
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    January 17th, 2005
    This fellow's shoddy thinking does the world few favours.

    By using other people's content as the trigger for delivering ads, Gator (and other parasites) use other people's content in ways that do not remotely resemble fair use of copyrighted material. The fact that some people might (?) benefit from that abuse does not make it right.

    His glib but sloppy analogies are not at all parallel with what's really going on.

    When I buy Haagen-Dazs ice cream at the store, I occasionally get a coupon at checkout offering a fat discount on Ben & Jerry's. Smart move. Adam Smith would approve.

    In this case, any coupons delivered at checkout would be done with the knowledge and consent of the store owner. Gator does not deliver its popups with the consent of the site owner. That is a large and substantive difference. In the brick and mortar a competitor intruding that way into someone's store would be guilty of trespassing, and the store owner would have the support of the law if they chose to prosecute.

    Trespassing does not become acceptable just because it occurs in cyberspace, and anyone who argues that it does reveals not just shoddy thinking but shoddy ethics of their own.

    Elisabeth Archambault

  4. #4
    ABW Ambassador ShoreMark's Avatar
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    January 17th, 2005
    NJ, USA
    Originally posted by
    In this case, any coupons delivered at checkout would be done with the knowledge and consent of the store owner.

    I almost always get a coupon for a competing product at the supermarket checkout - but I've never gotten a coupon for the supermarket next door, nor did that other supermarket get the money from the purchase that prompted the generation of the coupon.

    Nor does that other supermarket have any chance of benefiting from my purchase of the competing product with that coupon, since it's imprinted with the issuing stores identification: good only at "ABC." A more apt analogy would be that the coupon issued says "this coupon is only good at the "DEF" store next door and then only if you remove the competing product from your cart at "ABC." No supermarket in the world would allow that in a million years and neither would any affiliate - if they had the ability to stop it.

    That ability to stop it lies solely in the hands of the merchants (barring any possible future legal remedies) - if all the merchants did the right thing without all this hemming and hawing, not only would they enhance their credibility with Webmasters everywhere, they'd not lose a dime since those parasite sales are merely the redistribution of the commissions that would have been paid anyway. Indeed, it seems from some points in your presentation, Elisabeth, that they may pay more than they otherwise would have because of the interceptions.

    When something is clearly wrong, there is no need for debate, though there sure is a lot of it, isn't there? [img]/infopop/emoticons/icon_confused.gif[/img]

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