AD COUNCIL FINDS A NICHE IN NEW MEDIA

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The cutting edge might be the last place you'd expect to find a non-profit public service group, but the Advertising Council is spending quite a bit of time there these days.

The Ad Council is already linked up with or talking to such new media players as Time Warner, Sega of America, Interactive Network and Prodigy Services Co. It plans to use interactive technologies to digitize commercials, create new direct-response mechanisms and study consumer reaction to its messages.

"The whole notion of interactive is the logical next step in our focus on creating very specific action steps for viewers and readers of our ads," said Ad Council President Ruth Wooden. "We'll be able to, on a cost-effective basis, find who we're looking for and give them information that's very specific."

Ms. Wooden said the Ad Council has held talks with Time Warner about its Full Service Network test, slated to begin later this year in Orlando.

"We will be on the Time Warner interactive cable test, no doubt about it," she said.

A new deal with Sega is less ambitious but allows the non-profit group to test yet another distribution method. Sega has agreed to include a digitized version of a 60-second crime prevention spot on some educational and entertainment-oriented CD-ROMs. The TV spot was created by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising.

The Ad Council's first foray into interactive media came just over a year ago, when it ran an ad on Prodigy for Earth Share that quizzed users on their knowledge of the environment. Over nine months, the environmental fund-raising group received $54,000 in pledges and more than 66,000 requests for a free poster offered in the on-screen ads.

Last fall, the Ad Council began a second online campaign called "Breaking the Cycle," dealing with children and poverty. Users can call up state-by-state statistics on poverty and request more literature at the touch of a button.

Based on response to both campaigns, Ms. Wooden said the Prodigy program is being expanded, with six more campaigns being added over the next six months.

The Ad Council also last month became one of Interactive Network's charter advertisers, joining Chrysler Corp. and American Airlines. It will use the interactive TV service to poll viewers on various public service messages and allow them to request more information on issues discussed in the ads.

Behind the scenes, the Ad Council is making a library of current campaigns available to programming executives via NATPE*Net, an online service that distributes information to TV and radio stations.

While Ms. Wooden believes interactive media will be a "real breakthrough" for the advertising industry, she said she has met resistance from some ad agencies.

The Prodigy ads, for example, were developed and produced by the online service's in-house creative team. So Ms. Wooden is urging agencies to use the Ad Council's pro bono relationships with the media to try their hand at creating interactive advertising applications.

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