But it's hard to concentrate, because there's this really funny message scrolling across the screen above the game. You keep wanting to read the words whizzing by, and when you lose your concentration on the game, the computer always manages to nail another point.
Is this the latest game to hit your favorite Web site? Hardly. More like the latest ad banner from Hewlett-Packard.
FLAT ADS GO AWAY
While many industry players last year were racing to go "beyond the banner," the war cry today rallies troops to beef banners up.
Marketers have come a long way since the days of flat, billboard-type ads that reside dutifully at the top or bottom of a Web page.
"Advertising images are beginning to refine themselves on the Web," said Stanley Wong, who holds the new-age title of interactive ad man at Yahoo!. "We now know that billboard banner ads are not enough. Direct marketing messages and interactivity must play a role."
Animated GIFs, electronic forms and Shockwave-enhanced games are making their marks on the banner scene.
Obviously, the specific goals of individual marketers will dictate the sophistication and style of banner ads, but most advertisers realize that the more interactivity created by banners, the higher the click-through rates and the deeper the involvement consumers will have with a brand.
"Forms make the banner more useful to consumers by helping them find what they want more quickly," said Mr. Wong.
Perhaps the best example of this is a banner campaign for Conde Net's Epicurious (http://www.epicurious.com), which appeared at the end of the year on Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) and the Weather Channel (http://www.weather.com), among other sites. The form-embedded banners allowed consumers to search the recipe and travel databases on the sites, and then pointed them directly to corresponding areas on Epicurious.
Ads for Conde Net's Swoon (http://www.swoon.com) also let consumers search for personals and horoscopes directly from the banner ads.
25% TO 50% CLICK-THROUGH
Click-through rates for the Epicurious Food banner topped out at a 52% high. Banners for Travel and Swoon consistently hovered between a 25% and 50% click-through, significantly higher than the average 3% to 5% click-through rate that most banners see.
"The idea is to put the power of the site in the hands of the users," said Tricia Viscardi, director of marketing at Conde Net. "We want to show users the utility of our site directly from our banner."
Some industry executives predict that as banner sizes become standardized, the ads will become increasingly creative and useful.
"Because the industry is accepting the standard banner dimensions, advertisers can focus more attention on developing different innovations," said Rick Boyce, HotWired's director of advertising. "Standards will help marketers become truly creative with the message itself, without worrying about fitting banner sizes for various Web sites."
Hewlett-Packard Co., for example, invites users to play Pong on banners for its new printer, called Mopier. WebTV uses GIF animations of remote controls morphing into surf boards to create a more dynamic message on one ad.
NOT JUST EYE CANDY
"More marketers are using animation not just for the heck of it, but to deliver a progressive and sequential message," said Mr. Boyce. "Some have complained that banners offer severely limited real estate. But using more sophisticated technology and animation allows marketers to get outside real estate Ads that move catch marketers' eyes
constraints and put complex messages in front of people."
NOT VISIBLE TO EVERYONE
However, it's worth noting that most browsers need Shockwave and other technologies before they will read any of the more sophisticated banners on the Web. For that reason, some executives bet that forms embedded within banners will be the winners in 1997.
"Forms are more bullet-proof and guarantee you a dimension of interactivity," said Yahoo!'s Mr. Wong.
Despite creative improvement in banners, however, a study recently completed by HotWired and Millward Brown International showed that the high involvement nature of the Web and the prominent placement of advertising played a larger role in defining banner effectiveness than did the specific creative tested.
The study also showed that one exposure to a Web banner increased consumer loyalty anywhere from 5% to 50%.
But after asking why people click on banners, the study reported that the most salient factor driving click-through rates was the audience's inherent interest in the advertised product or brand.
CREATIVE PLUS TARGETING
"The appeal of the creative may also play a role; however, the contribution appears to be secondary," said the study (http://www. hotwired.com/brandstudy).
With the ability for advertisers and Web sites to increasingly micro-target their audiences, marketers are growing ever more confident that a mix of great creative and smart targeting will increase click-through rates exponentially.
"There's no doubt banner advertising raises awareness in the marketplace," said John Zaterka, district sales manager at San Francisco-based BigBook. "But a targeted billboard with great creative becomes a very effective direct response