Following less than a month after the failure of the online direct marketing start-up PowerAgent, MetroMail, a giant of real-world direct and database marketing, has launched its own promotion site.
The site will be branded as Direct Value to You, and will offer consumers special discounts on name-brand products and services from marketers such as Whirlpool Corp. and Playtex Products Corp. So far, a total of 20 advertisers have signed on to the service.
Like so many large, traditional companies making an entrance to the Web, MetroMail's site falls short of being innovative. Presently, a surfer who visits the site is served a handful of untargeted ad squares for special offers on diverse products ranging from hunting magazines and cigar clubs to washing machines and suntan lotion.
For instance, when a reporter entered his name as Joe Dunderhead and listed "some high school" for education, one of the ads served was for a job search service specializing in MBAs.
Unlike other online direct marketers such as BonusMail, CyberGold or Netcentives, Direct Value to You doesn't offer users added incentives for responding to ads in the form of cash or loyalty currencies.
Also, unlike many competitors, DV2U is, for now at least, primarily a Web model, without a prominent e-mail or other push component alerting members of new offers.
Surprisingly, MetroMail also isn't talking yet of plans to leverage its massive consumer database to target users online. Rather, it plans to use DV2U to collect new customer names for its off-line operations. Indeed, its fine-print, opt-out policy of selling users' e-mail and postal addresses to marketers is liable to engender a consumer backlash.
50 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
What the company does have going for it, however, which none of the online start-ups can claim, is 50 years of consumer marketing experience and nearly $300 million in annual revenue.
If it hasn't hit on the magic Web formula immediately, the company certainly has ample resources to keep at it and figure it out eventually.
Gregory Wester, director of Internet Market Strategies for the Yankee Group, Boston, believes Direct Value to You has good long-term prospects. He suggested one strategy MetroMail might employ would be to franchise its offers to other Web sites.
"There are certainly a lot of players in this space," Mr. Wester said, "but MetroMail's existing client base really speaks to [its] capabilities. We expect that this offering, either as a stand-alone or in the franchise market, will have a significant acceleration in the online direct marketing space."
Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.