HP taps RealNames to simplify, improve the online experience

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Hewlett-packard co., looking to simplify how customers get into its Web site, today will announce a deal to use RealNames Corp.'s Internet Keywords program.

HP bought about 1,000 keywords, including "invent," its slogan; "HP"; "HP Pavilion"; "HP Support"; and even "Carly Fiorina," its high-profile president-CEO. It will use keywords in offline ads, in packaging and on products. Internet users could type a keyword to go directly to the relevant Web page.

OPTIMISM ABOUT IPO

The deal comes as RealNames prepares to make news on a number of fronts. Chairman-CEO Keith Teare said RealNames hopes to announce a round of financing from new investors within six weeks and then refile for an initial public stock offering by summer's end. RealNames also is working to port its technology to wireless devices and TV set-top boxes. And it's readying a late-year launch of a keyword service to help marketers track effectiveness of broadcast and print ads.

RealNames called off an IPO this spring after Microsoft Corp. bought a 20% stake and the dot-com financial market turned soft.

HP isn't RealNames' largest customer; MP3.com is the biggest in revenue. Separately, eBay and Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co. have bought more keywords.

But HP is a high-profile, logical customer. RealNames' keywords mesh with HP's marketing strategy to simplify its messages and help customers find what they want inside its massive site.

"It's [about] making the Internet work for you--you not having to work the Internet," said Maia Ozguc, HP director of global brand advertising.

HP secured a one-year renewable contract for keywords accessible on certain browsers and search engines in the U.S. Mr. Teare said HP has the option for rights in other countries, something he expects to happen in two to three months.

Terms weren't disclosed. RealNames' average deal for larger marketers is $500,000 for unlimited keyword usage.

BROWSERS WHERE KEYWORDS WORK

RealNames' keywords work automatically in the address line of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, the dominant Web browser, and in the search function of such properties as AltaVista Co., Google, Go Network, Inktomi and Microsoft's MSN.

But the keywords don't automatically work in the address line of America Online's Netscape Navigator; Netscape has a rival Smart Browsing keyword feature, and an AOL keyword feature is ubiquitous in promotions of AOL marketing partners.

As a result, Ms. Ozguc figures HP's RealNames keywords will be usable for about 70% of HP's target audience.

Until and unless RealNames and AOL set one keyword standard, there will be some marketplace confusion over keywords. "That is an unfortunate situation," Ms. Ozguc said. But "with RealNames, we do reach a critical mass of people. . . . It would be nice to have a [universal keyword]. But it's nice to solve the problem as far as we can go."

HP is huddling with agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, to sort out how to deploy keywords vs. hp.com in offline ads.

TRACKING IMPACT

Separately, RealNames plans to launch a service--starting at about $1 million a year--allowing TV, radio and print advertisers to track referrals to Web sites using keywords to gauge effectiveness of offline ads. After a TV spot runs, an advertiser could see how much traffic and what regions visited the site. Print ads would use distinct keywords--a possible solution to the challenge that readers often ignore long, trackable URLs and go simply to, say, hp.com. RealNames is working with Grey Interactive to gauge advertisers' needs for the service.

Copyright July 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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