BOB GARFIELD'S AD REVIEW: ONLINE AND OFF-PUT, THANKS TO ALLSTATE

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Surf the web? We'd rather go to Papua New Guinea and surf the tsunami. We'd rather have a kidney infection. God, we'd rather see "The Avengers."

At present, to navigate the Web is a nerve-racking, desk-pounding, blood-pressure-spiking experience, often accompanied, at least in our humble abode, by loud profanity describing acts that are, as someone once said, inappropriate.

As for clicking onto a Web ad, are you crazy?

Detouring from any site where you have safely alighted to anyplace else is a daring, nigh unto reckless, act of faith. What with the precariousness of server-to-server communication, narrow bandwidth and the infuriating limitations of Windows, to venture to some unexplored click-through is a voyage into the unknown from which you may neverAN ERROR HAS OCCURRED IN YOUR APPLICATION. IF YOU CHOOSE "IGNORE" YOU SHOULD SAVE YOUR WORK IN A NEW FILE. IF YOU CHOOSE "CLOSE" YOUR APPLICATION WILL TERMINATE.

So we were amused by the big Web-advertising "summit," where the people at Procter & Gamble stood on their soapbox, decrying the state of Internet advertising, and demanding solutions.

Please, allow me:

The problem with the state of Internet advertising is the state of the Internet. The solution is to do the best you can until the state of the Internet improves.

Once bandwidth expands and each Web session is less hypertensive, traffic will expand exponentially. Within 20 years, infrastructure and hardware improvements will have created the long-predicted brave new digital world.

The computer really will be totally integrated into our lives, in ways we can easily foresee (TV and telephony will merge, personal finance will be all online) and ways we can scarcely imagine. And ads will be multifaceted, video-intensive, high-fidelity, full of product demonstrations and ready to complete the transaction. But that's then. This is now.

For the time being, negotiating the Web is still a primitive affair, like driving cross-country in a Hupmobile. And the thing not to do is make the journey worse.

Witness one poor man's experience trying to get a little used-car-pricing information from theautochannel.com. The site is wholly sponsored by Allstate Corp., which has banner ads rotating with no respite.

"Safe drivers can save. Drive down insurance costs," says one. "Automobile insurance explained! The Inside Story," says another."You can't predict the future. Prepare for what if."

There's nothing wrong with the ads, per se, which were done by Giant Step, Chicago, and theautochannel.com itself. They are simple and direct, with modest five- or six-stage animation. The problem is, between the animation, and the constant changing of messages, our hero and his 33,600-baud modem were utterly stymied.

His browser icon and his hard drive never stopped spinning, keeping him from the only information he traveled to the site to get. This lasted for 45 minutes.

This guy will never buy from Allstate as long as he lives-but that won't be very long, because he was that close to stroking out.

Many advertisers are on the Web not because they know how to use it, but because they sense they need to be prepared for the not-so-distant future. That's fine, but not if you alienate the consumer along the way.

Look, here's the real secret to Web advertising, guaranteed to succeed:

Always remember toAPPLICATION ERROR. YOUR BROWSER CAUSED A GENERAL PROTECTION FAULT IN MODULE NETSCAPE.EXE AT 0011:545D.

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