From naked online shoppers to gerbils shot from
cannons, Internet startups have been responsible for some of the
more outrageous advertising to hit television lately.
But still, these companies are finding it can be hard to stand
out and that could spell trouble for entrepreneurs under pressure
to show results for investors financing their dot-com ad blitzes.
The fierce competition for attention will be evident again Jan.
30 when more than a dozen Internet companies ranging from online
career sites to a wedding invitation supplier share time on the
Super Bowl telecast with beer, auto and credit card advertisers.
"Consumers are pretty overwhelmed," said Edward Boches, chief
creative officer for the advertising agency Mullen. "Certainly,
the majority of it cannot be connecting," he said.
Internet companies spent more than $1 billion advertising on
traditional media like television, radio and newspapers in the
final three months of 1999, experts who track such spending
estimated. That is well above the $649 million spent for all of
1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting, a research firm.
Nonetheless, in a holiday survey of 2,677 online shoppers by the
firm Active Research, 22 percent were unable to cite any specific
Internet advertisement when asked to name the one they found most
While analysts estimate that online sales tripled this holiday
season to as much as $12 billion, the sites used most were those of
established companies such as Amazon.com and eToys, and online
offshoots of traditional retailers like barnesandnoble.com and
Toysrus.com, said researcher Nielsen/NetRatings.
The results achieved by Internet ads varied widely.
Beyond.com attracted a big media buzz when it featured a naked
stay-at-home worker who patronized the software retailer. This
month, faced with slack sales, the company said it was withdrawing
from retailing and would focus instead on setting up online stores
for other businesses.
Send.com, a gift service from Waltham, Mass., spent a hefty $20
million in November and December on ads featuring "The Giver" who
eavesdropped on people's reactions to his presents.
Nielsen/NetRatings said Send.com ranked just 1,820th on its
December list of more than 2,600 most-visited Web sites.
Kathryn Carroll, a spokeswoman for Send.com, said the figures
understated the number of its visitors since it only tracks visits
from home and Send gets people at work.
"We were pleased with the results of our advertising," she
said, citing strong sales and Web visits and a sharp rise in brand
On the other hand, Cyberian Outpost.com, which sells computers
and accessories, spent only $2.7 million on holiday advertising but
was 393rd on the Nielsen/NetRatings Web visitor list.
Outpost was the fifth most memorable company in Active
Research's survey, with many citing its gerbil ad of late 1998.
That ad opened with a man admitting the commercial was aimed at
getting people to remember the Web site's name, and then appeared
to show gerbils being shot from a cannon at a target.
Robert Bowman, chief executive of the Kent, Conn.-based company,
said the gerbil ad triggered a brief spike in visits to the Web
site but failed to lift sales.
"Almost nobody knew from the ads what we did," he said.
This past holiday season, Outpost ads featured actor Martin Mull
who showed what the site sells and promised free overnight
Bowman said the company actually spent 10 percent less on ads
this holiday season, still Web visits rose steadily and December
sales tripled from a year ago.
Mullen's Boches said it takes patience and persistence to build
"The new rules say it is Internet time .... But it takes time
to get customers to trust you," he said.
The most frequently recalled Internet advertiser, according to
Active Research's survey, was Amazon, the online department store.
It was cited as the most memorable by 11 percent of those in the
Amazon's ads featured men in red sweaters, singing Mitch
Miller-style about the new toy line and the convenience of online
Amazon spent $90 million on marketing in the fourth quarter,
triple the amount in the previous quarter said, spokesman Bill
Curry. Its sales rose to $650 million, from $253 million a year
earlier, but Curry said the impact of the advertising was unclear
because Amazon had expanded its product line from books, music and
videos to include toys, electronics, tools and software.