BELLSOUTH BANNER ADS TEST CUSTOMIZED CURSOR ARROWS: GOAL OF USING COMET SYSTEMS' APPLICATION IS TO GENERATE CLICKS

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BellSouth takes a stab at reinventing the banner when it launches ads today with customized cursors from Comet Systems, New York.

Eight banners advertising Real Yellow Pages Online (www.yp.bellsouth.com) will run on nearly 400 rich media-enabled sites within the Flycast Network.

The communications company is the first advertiser to integrate Comet technology into banner ads, officials said, and expects customized cursors to increase click-through rates. But other marketers will soon.

LESS INTRUSIVE

"Think about how you navigate a Web site: You point your cursor at banners," said Melissa Honabach, senior manager for advertising and promotions for BellSouth IntelliVentures. "If you can draw people's attention to the fact that [their cursors] are on banners, it will make them more aware [of the ad]. And it's a less-intrusive way of grabbing people's attention than interstitials, because people look at their cursors anyway."

The arrow cursors, developed in-house, feature BellSouth's and other regional bell operating companies' "walking fingers" logo. The cursor changes into the animated logo when users move over a BellSouth banner on a Flycast affiliate site, such as game developer CleverMedia, kid and family site Kids 1000 and YourNewHouse.

The banners aren't new; BellSouth created them in-house and has been running them on the Flycast Network since September. The same eight banners -- with and without the cursors -- will run during the test that ends May 10.

Ms. Honabach did not disclose the cost of integrating the customized cursors.

2.5 MIL IMPRESSIONS EXPECTED

BellSouth can alter creative if necessary. The company expects to generate 2.5 million impressions from the cursor-integrated banners during the test.

"We typically have gotten a click-through rate of 1.2% over the last two months," Ms. Honabach said. "If the cursors positively impact the click-through rate, we'll definitely continue to use them."

Flycast will serve the banners touting the Real Yellow Pages Online to users in its territory: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Users who download the Comet Cursor plug-in will be able to see the customized cursors. Worldwide, the plug-in has been installed on nearly 4 million browsers, said Ben Austin, director of marketing at Comet Systems. Five percent of the Southeast region browsers already have the capability installed, he said.

"Ubiquity of deployment is always important for advertisers, so downloading a plug-in is going to be an issue," said Evan Neufeld, senior analyst, director for online advertising at Jupiter Communications. "But because Comet's plug-in can be downloaded fairly easily -- in about 10 seconds -- and because it's only 25K, it becomes less of an issue."

COMET'S CHALLENGE

Mr. Neufeld said Comet Cursors improve banners' click-through rates. The challenge for Comet, however, will be establishing the customized cursors not just as beneficial enhancements but as viable, standalone advertising.

Mr. Austin said Comet Systems expects 10 national advertisers to use the cursors in ads during the second quarter. It was also in talks with other ad networks, including DoubleClick, 24/7 Media and NetGravity, to make sure their networks could handle the capability.

BellSouth will launch similar cursor-enhanced banner campaigns for other products and services, including the Real White Pages Online and its portal,

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