In a radical departure from standard Web advertising, Delphi will give users the option to see random banner ads or have their online session be sponsored by a single advertiser. If the latter is chosen, users then can pick one of four sponsors assigned to their specific demographic and community.
Visitors who choose one of those four will see the sponsor's 15-second rich-media ad in a window on the screen. If they don't make a selection, the ad from the first advertiser listed will appear.
Visitors then enter the forum, where the advertiser becomes sole sponsor of their visit. Each page will include a text link to the sponsor, but no banner ads.
Delphi is betting users will respond favorably to choosing whose ad will be in front of them for an extended period. VP-Marketing Rusty Williams said the approach is a positive alternative to "garish, beat-you-over-head" banners that turn off many users.
Mr. Williams likened it to sponsorships of early TV shows, where viewers had some affinity for a company paying for the program. When users leave a forum, Delphi bets many will click to the sponsor.
Delphi next month will offer advertisers and users the sponsored-session option. Delphi serves 2.5 million users on 80,000 special-interest forums for clients ranging from small organizations up to Amazon.com's PlanetAll.
Within a year, 90% of Delphi traffic could be seeing the new ads, Mr. Williams said. "We're very confident in the sort of balance we've struck" between user benefits and advertiser needs.
The first charter advertiser identified by Delphi is Volvo Cars of North America, which signed on via Web shop Blue Dingo, New York. Other advertisers appearing on a beta version include barnes
andnoble.com and The Gap.
DoubleClick's DART will provide ad serving technology.
Delphi plans to charge advertisers about 25 cents a session. Based on a typical user's 18- to 20-page visit, that's a cost-per-thousand page rate of about $12.50.
Banner-ad CPMs on Delphi forums, by contrast, run from $2 to $40, with its smaller forums running $10 to $20.
Delphi ads are sold by Web reps including 24/7 Media, New York, and by companies specializing in niche markets; some larger partners do their own ad sales and serving.
"This is not the elimination of banner ads entirely," Mr. Williams said. "[But] we think this is a viable alternative for advertisers who are frustrated by the lack of branding capabilities through traditional [banner] ads and also advertisers who want to be there and own a full session" so they get a higher