With a minimum of training, Mr. Levitan successfully sold out ad sponsorship on Parent Soup, a parenting-oriented site on America Online and the Web (http://www.parentsoup.com). After snagging deals with blue-chip marketers MGM, Polaroid Corp., Toyota Motor Sales USA, Nissan Motor Cars USA and Starbucks Coffee Co., ads from Fisher-Price, Compaq Computer Corp. and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals' Triaminic are up next.
The key to Mr. Levitan's success: offer advertisers the chance to do far more than buy banners. Polaroid sponsors an innovative area that helps parents to teach kids self-esteem via photo-graphs. Starbucks hosts a chat area. The blending of content and advertising is successful, yet controversial.
"Ultimately we're a custom solutions provider. We're consultants on the media buy," Mr. Levitan said. "Advertisers' biggest concern is that the medium is changing so rapidly that it's hard to make a commitment. But we can learn together."
AOL-backed iVillage was one of the first brands to describe its content and marketing opportunities in terms of "channels." About Work, another of the company's sites, went live Sept. 2, while Vices and Virtues rolls out Oct. 1.
Under Mr. Levitan, the original ad rate card's designer prices ($350,000 and $150,000 annually) were reconfigured as iVillage began to create more narrowly defined content zones.
Now, at $150,000 for annual sponsorship, equivalent to a $44 cost per thousand, the channels keep on selling, delivering click-through rates in the 5% to 10% range and bringing in $750,000 in ad commitments.
Betcha didn't know: Mr. Levitan is a mountain climber who scaled 13,000-foot peaks in Wyoming's Grand Tetons and has been known to spend his New Year's Eves on climbs with his twin brother in New Hampshire.