Marketers Shift Tactics on Web Ads

By Nate Ives,

A WEB site built by MSN for Lexus, the maker of luxury cars, hopes to attract customers by applying the increasingly important dictum of online advertising: make yourself useful.

The site, called Luxury for Living, contains links to Lexus advertisements, but it is dominated by lifestyle information on topics including luxury hotels, high-technology homes and farmers' markets. It also contains links to outside sites like and Hoping to make users feel relaxed and pampered, the site plays music: piano, jazz or "new luxury," the music from Lexus commercials.

The content offerings are intended to keep users on the site without bombarding them with advertisements. But those ads are just a click away, if a user decides to look at them.

The site is a response to a rising chorus of disdain for online advertising clutter and intrusion, hallmarks of the widely despised pop-up ads. The reaction has forced advertisers to give something to consumers, like news or lifestyle information, in exchange for looking at their ads.

Advertising on the World Wide Web needs to provide useful information because Web users typically go to the Internet for a specific reason and do not want to be bothered, said Geoffrey Ramsey, chief executive at eMarketer, a market research firm in New York. "In general, thinking of the Internet as a push medium for advertisers - pushing messages out to prospective customers - is not as effective as using pull strategies, where you create a venue where prospective customers can get something from you," he said.

To that end, began offering free access to its subscription-only content to readers who agreed to interact with an ad from Mercedes-Benz. Similarly, the Web site for The Economist magazine rejects pop-up ads, but late last year began to offer its $69-a-year subscriptions to the site free to selected users, provided those users were willing to receive e-mail advertisements from Oracle, which sponsored the deal.

Meredith Interactive in New York, a unit of the Meredith Corporation that runs Web sites for magazines like Ladies' Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens, is using custom-produced Web sites to attract users to ads, said Bobbie Halfin, managing director. Clients like Kraft have bought online packages based on a theme, like recipes, in which to embed their ads and products.

Shortly after Meredith began offering the online packages in the fourth quarter of 2001, roughly 10 percent of its clients had signed up, Ms. Halfin said. By the end of last year, 60 percent of Meredith online clients used custom packages.

Joanne Bradford, chief media revenue officer at MSN in Redmond, Wash., part of Microsoft , said the "custom solutions" group established in July at MSN is seeking the same result. The group tries to make sure that advertisers offer Web products that provide information to their target market, Ms. Bradford said, so those users get something of value out of their online encounters.

"We really wanted to get past the stigma of online pop-ups and clutter," she said. MSN, which built the Lexus site,, expects to send at least 500,000 visitors to the site each month from links at other MSN sites.

Ann Bybee, corporate manager for advertising and product strategy at Lexus, part of the Toyota Motor Sales division of Toyota, said Lexus, which does not use pop-up ads, wanted to build a site that kept people coming back. So it concentrated on features and a feel that affluent consumers, those with income of at least $100,000, would appreciate, she said.

"Ninety-nine percent of all advertisers online are doing banner ads, which are great, but it's a shotgun effect," said Arthur Chan, associate communications director at the agency used by Lexus, Team One Advertising in El Segundo, Calif., part of the Publicis Groupe. To reach a more select audience, he said, "We had to continue to be on the leading edge," and use music, for example, to produce a polished feel.

Despite the gyrations that marketers go through to try to catch users' attention, sometimes their efforts are really just throwbacks, said Mr. Ramsey of eMarketer. A Web portal built by Lexus is not so different from the practice in the early days of television of having series presented entirely by one corporate marketer, he said.

"We can think of the old Procter & Gamble-sponsored soaps," Mr. Ramsey said. "More and more, we're seeing the tried and true and sometimes forgotten marketing principles coming to the Internet."


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