HotWired's newest VP looks beyond banner ads

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Madsen to search out interactive alternatives for Web developer

By Debra Aho Williamson

In his first day at HotWired last week, Hunter Madsen wasn't yet set up with a new phone number or e-mail address, but it didn't matter much. For this interactive thinker, the more time he can spend away from such devices, the better.

Mr. Madsen joined the trendy San Francisco-based World Wide Web content developer as VP-commercial strategy, from senior partner and director of J. Walter Thompson/interactive enterprise. His prime goal at HotWired--to find the next Web advertising vehicle beyond the banner ad--is neither easily said nor done.

FACING THE PUZZLE

"We're exploring what kind of brand value can we build if we fully integrate sponsors with site content in a way that brings such value to users that they do not have a negative reaction to the intermixture of commercial and non-commercial messages," theorizes Mr. Madsen, 40.

Translation: Involve sponsors in the content, but don't upset your users.

Ironically, HotWired and its ad director, Rick Boyce, are credited with popularizing the banner ad that, when clicked on, links a visitor to a marketer's site. But many marketers and agency executives say the static-billboard ads don't invite user interaction.

"Banners do what they do and they do it well. What they cannot do by nature is go the full extent of creating a linkage between consumer, sponsor and brand," said Mr. Madsen, who will work with Mr. Boyce and the ad sales team.

BROAD SPONSORSHIPS

Mr. Madsen will create broad sponsorship opportunities that marry marketer and Web site for several months in an integrated package. HotWired has begun breaking off its individual programming "channels" into separate sites, with their own Web addresses. The current HotWired home page now changes daily to highlight different features.

In May the company began offering its HotBot search engine, and is testing a real-time chat feature, Talk.com, set to be unveiled at this month's COMDEX/Spring '96 in Chicago.

Some sites have come under fire for involving sponsors too heavily in content; Mr. Madsen thinks he has a way around this. "How you select a partner is a huge deal because of the church-state issue," he said. "You don't want the visitor to . . . see the [cigarette] site brought to you by Philip Morris. It's too obvious."

HARVARD ALUM

Those who have worked with Mr. Madsen use terms like "visionary" a lot. He has a Ph.D in political science from Harvard University and spent three years as a faculty member there before jumping to the ad world in 1986 because, as he puts it, "my field was intellectually bankrupt."

A 10-year JWT veteran working in account management for clients like Sprint and Ortho Lawn & Garden, he spent the past three years racing to build the interactive unit.

The logical question--will banner ads on HotWired go away?--has an easy answer in his mind. No. "They have their function," Mr. Madsen said. "All we're asking is what else can they do?"

Copyright June 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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