The hype surrounding push was driven home as this special report was being produced. Like most publications, Ad Age creates its editorial calendar in the preceding year, so push was picked as a special report topic back when it appeared it would be the greatest thing for the Web since the Mosaic browser.
PointCast Network had just launched and was drawing serious attention, and many other push contenders were lining up in the wings, promising to offer media and marketing companies the opportunity to shoot personalized messages straight to consumers' desktops.
LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NO ONE'S HOME
As soon as the editorial calendar hit the streets, the pitches started rolling in, mostly from push vendors themselves and Web shops that were developing new push applications for marketers. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to press.
One by one, the stories started falling apart. Clear Ink had developed a pioneering push application for Supercuts. Whoops. Never mind. The person who was in charge of the project doesn't work there anymore, and no one else is around to talk about it.
Black Dog Design is pushing a personalized greeting card service for Unforgettable Flowers. Oh. Sorry. The client's not ready yet.
And so on and so on.
Even established push services, such as PointCast and BackWeb, had a hard time producing advertising clients to interview. The marketers were about as eager to talk about push as they were to meet with their accountants.
Procter & Gamble Co., which has partnered with PointCast for a push channel, said it's still trying to figure out what works and doesn't work. Columbia TriStar Pictures, which is using BackWeb technology for its new "Starship Troopers" film, also said its efforts are experimental.
Lots of other companies seem to have innovative uses for the technology, but they haven't signed up any advertisers yet. BoxTop's iVisit video conferencing application is one.
So what is going on here? Is push really a hot new technology for marketers and media companies, or it going to go the way of the 500-channel TV universe? Perhaps it's overkill, or too intrusive. With hundreds of channels on Netscape Netcaster and Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0, how's an advertiser's message to stand out?
Maybe marketers are realizing that with so much information on the Web, pushing even more data down the pipe to consumers is not the right way to get their message across. At least in the traditional push broadcast sense.
What seems more likely is that modified forms of push will emerge as valid advertising vehicles. If consumers are going to be getting all that information pushed into their face, they'd better be getting something in return.
CUSTOMIZE INFORMATION FOR USER
That's why incentive e-mail programs, in which consumers are awarded points redeemable for cash and prizes for agreeing to read targeted e-mail promotions, are signing up so many advertisers.
Other big media companies are using innovative strategies to customize their information to meet advertisers' targeting needs. Elle is making use of technology from BackWeb that it calls push, although it's not exactly push, to deliver localized content on Web pages globally. And CMP Media and Time Inc. seem to be hitting the advertising jackpot with custom publishing, which is not at all push, but pull.
As marketers explore which online advertising models will work, they're going to find some that don't pay off. Maybe push is one of them. Maybe instead of being pushy, marketers just need to be more convincing.
Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.