Just as marketers get used to the concept of "click here," a host of new technologies, from Sun Microsystems' Java to the latest version of Netscape's browser, are providing the wherewithal to turn the ubiquitous billboards into a cornucopia of sound, animation and even video.
"New tools for banners are still evolving," said Scott Heiferman, president of online media planning firm i-Traffic. "We're just now beginning to touch on the capabilities for optimizing banners."
BILLBOARDS THAT ROTATE
Starwave Corp., Seattle, last week launched the Java-driven ScorePost on ESPNet SportsZone (http://espnet.sportszone.com). As ScorePost scrolls through sports scores, it also rotates ads, much like the rotating signage at basketball games.
ScorePost can also be set up to run as an independent window on the desktop.
Cupertino, Calif.-based PointCast Network, meanwhile, will create animated ads for sponsors of its offline news delivery service, now in test (http://www.pointcast.com).
Warner Bros. is selling 30-second slots for some of its Web audio programming (http://www.dccomics.com/radio). And Duracell threw away the banner box entirely, substituting a drawing of a battery breaking through the page.
Curious consumers who clicked on the battery would then see an image of the back of the page laced with electrical circuits along with the message "Powered by Duracell."
These innovations have Web experts like Peter Bray, creative director for Portland, Ore., Internet ad agency CyberSight, saying banners will fade from the cyberspace landscape.
"Banners are largely ineffective," said Mr. Bray.
"But what we will see short term is more interactive banners," he added.
Sites claim animated ads-or any ad that goes beyond the banner-have a much higher click rate. Computer-oriented Web site C/net (http://www.cnet.com) says users click on its Java-enhanced icons, such as a finger that taps at a link with the message "click here," about four times more than static ads.
The newest version of Netscape can also run multiple windowlike frames simultaneously, which will allow an ad to run in one window while consumers surf to other pages.
The multiple frames could allow consumers to read other pages while watching animation and even video ads, moving the adver- tising model on the Internet closer to TV than its current print approach.
"We see frames as having so much potential," said C/net Creative Director Fred Sotherland. "It is an interesting technology that we feel needs some time, but eventually everyone will be using frames."
Not everyone can experience these high-tech ads, however. Most require users to have Windows 95 and the latest version of the Netscape browser, along with add-ons for audio and video.
Because of this, the savviest sites are adapting themselves to different users' technology.
ADS THAT MEET USERS' NEEDS
C/net and other sites use software to gather information about a visitor's computer setup, including platform (Macintosh or PC) browser and the domain (.com, .edu, .gov, etc.) the user is accessing the site from.
That way, C/net can offer enhanced ads targeted more specifically to users.
Netscape's "cookies" tool, meanwhile, allows a Web server to download ads tailored to specific consumer groups. A 40-year-old woman, for example, could receive a different style of Levi's ad than a teen-ager accessing the same Web page.
Cookies haven't been implemented widely because of concerns over privacy issues.
Mr. Sotherland said that with pending advances in video compression combined with Netscape frames, video ads might be a possibility within the year, opening up creativity to vast possibilities.
"If some of these compression issues are worked out, you'll see some dynamic sites," Mr. Sotherland said. "The Internet will truly become the infinite CD-ROM."