FLAMERS ON THE INTERNET

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With anywhere from 10 million to 30 million relatively well-educated, affluent and cutting-edge online users, the Internet would seem to be a heavenly place for advertising. But marketers exposed to tales of a cyberspace community peopled by academics and intellectuals who delight in shooting electronic "flames" at any and all ad messages might instead view the 'net as advertising hell.

The truth is the Internet is already flooded with commercial traffic and transactions. It is becoming more and more a mass medium whose real-world users are accustomed to having their information subsidized by advertisers.

With the government less willing to subsidize the 'net, advertising could be the best thing that's happened to it-making access cheaper and easier and easing somewhat the problems posed by technology's haves and its have-nots, who haven't the money or equipment to join the online world. The Internet could also be a great place to deliver information cheaply and easily to those looking for it.

Which is a key point. To advertise on the Internet, first understand the culture and respect the so-called netiquette-the unofficial code of conduct obeyed by most users and enforced by "flame" mail.

For advertisers, this calls for clearly labeled ads placed where users have the option of summoning forth more information. The wrong thing to do is to blindly send out ads disguised as objective information to hundreds or thousands of news areas, the cyberspace equivalent of an unlabeled direct mass mailing.

There are many opportunities to market and sell products on the Internet. There are opportunities as well for those who want to provide a gateway to advertisers and open a clear dialogue between the 'net community and the ad community.

Already, a number of people are considering the establishment of online ad agencies that would help marketers understand and work within the 'net culture.

As more professional and respectable advertisers and agency experts move onto the Internet, we'll see some vocal, widely publicized resistance to advertising begin to flame out.

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