INTERNET FOREIGN TURF TO SOME MARKETERS:INTEREST IN ADVERTISING ON WEB IS BOOMING IN HONG KONG

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Internet interest may be growing worldwide, but in many regions there's been minimal marketing activity on the World Wide Web.

Hong Kong's wide selection of local marketers with Web sites indicates the Colony is far more wired than much of the world. The Hong Kong Tourist Association claims 10% growth in Internet surfer use every two weeks.

Media outlets like English-language business magazine Asia Inc. Online, news magazine Asiaweek and 24-hour satellite Asia Business News have active Web sites.

And marketers are following these leads by advertising on these Web sites. Asia Inc. Online advertisers include IBM, Volvo, Ciba-Geigy, Virgin Atlantic and Federal Express. The Hong Kong Tourist Association began to sell advertising in February to its 2,000 airline, hotel, restaurant and retailer members, selling for $250 apiece in an introductory promotion, with plans to double shortly.

The medium's novel, chaotic nature doesn't scare Hong Kong marketers, keeping their response expectations fairly realistic.

Hong Kong also has numerous interactive agencies and consultants, aiding the marketers in starting up their sites.

M&C Saatchi/Asia Inc. Online handles site development for Sony Broadcast and Professional Product in Asia; Bates Hong Kong handles Nokia, HKTA and Hongkong Bank; and LinkAge Online, handles Hong Kong Trade Point Centre, Oxfam Hong Kong, China News Service, Bo Bo Tea International and Premium Watches.

Thailand is also a large market for the Internet, with an estimated 50,000 high-end users, and its competing domestic service providers KSC Commercial Internet Co. and Internet Thailand permit users to reserve hotel rooms and movie tickets, buy jewelry and view other ads.

Bates Thailand will consider online marketing this year but remains skeptical about online advertising being a cost-effective measure. One Leo Burnett Co., Bangkok, staffer also questions whether setting up Web sites is more useful in grabbing headlines than reeling in customers online. Nevertheless, Burnett is helping set up a home page for the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

India, the world's second-largest market, has a grand total of 2,000 Internet users, all signed on after the government began permitting access in August.

"No major industrial house in India has an iota of understanding what the Internet can do for them in business, in building image and reaching the world," said Kanakasabapathy Pandyan, CEO of MicroGiga Infotech, a Bombay consultancy.

India's barren playing field includes two Web sites of Indian interest: Gujarati-language publisher Chitralekha Group and IndiaWorld, a partnership of Ravi Database Consultants and ASAP Solutions, based in Carlsbad, Calif. IndiaWorld includes advertising from newspaper group Indian Express, magazine group Business India and agency Ogilvy & Mather.

But the upkeep of a Web site is too much strain for most marketers, as state-run international telecom traffic monopoly Videsh Sanchar Nigam is the sole channel to the Internet. But awareness is taking root; Bombay agency Rediffusion, Dentsu, Young & Rubicam, claiming to be India's first interactive online service, started up this year.

Like India, Australia is light-years behind Hong Kong in online marketing-not to mention Internet use.

"It's not a huge business," said Roger Bick, information technology director of agency George Patterson Bates' subsidiary Interactive Decisions, Sydney. "There are lots of small companies trying to get in, but because of a lack of expertise or finances or some other reason, they're here today and gone tomorrow."

Few Bates clients operate sites to promote themselves and sell products and services, instead providing corporate profile and gathering consumer information.

Only 100 Venezuelan companies have Web pages, said Ronald Kritzler, CompuServe's marketing manager, including the Caracas Stock Exchange, daily El Nacional, and Publicidad y Mercadeo and Producto magazines.

Two Chilean service providers dominate the domestic market: University of Chile's Reuna holds 80% of Chile's 40,000 users, and corporate-institutional RdC claims 15%. Together they have more than 90 Web sites including media, banks, a private pension fund, a tourism agency and a pasta marketer.

About 15,000 Internet users in Argentina have access to several domestic marketers' Web sites, which more aggressively court consumers than other marketers in the region.

Credit card marketer Argencard's Web site contains marketing information on bank affiliates, promotions and events it's sponsoring, as well as a home-shopping feature. Private pension fund Previnter operates a Web site that isn't yet fully interactive but provides company information.

Publinet helped set up sites for bank Banco Mayo, TV network Torneos y Competencias, and Buenos Aires ad agencies Capurro & Asociados, De Luca Publicidad and Verdino/Bates. Another agency, ApriWeb, handles the Internet needs of Young & Rubicam's local office.

"Agencies don't see [the Internet] as an efficient medium," said Flavio Altheim, president of Internet agency Publinet, Buenos Aires.

Costa Rica boasts about 100 domestic Web sites, but Internet understanding and interest is not nearly as pronounced among its marketers.

Mexico, a far bigger market, is giving more attention to online services and the Internet. But Mexico's online industry is still very small, making homegrown corporate Web pages hard to find.

In Canada, marketers seem primarily concerned with grabbing user attention; their money is of incidental interest.

Molson Breweries promotes itself and asks its consumers to register for a free membership.

"It's important for us to offer our consumers something that they think is important and relevant," said Freda Colbourne, director of corporate communications. "They'll have a better relationship with us."

"The hardest thing for people to deliver is good content, and that's what good Web sites are really all about," said Franke James, president of interactive agency The James Gang Advertising, Toronto, which set up a site for clothier Roots that offers information on national campsites.

Israeli businesses gaining most from growing Internet use at home are domestic software marketers. VDOnet develops VDOLive, transmitting video and audio over the Internet-and allowing users to do the same. VocalTec has also benefited, promoting and selling its Internet Phone solely on its home page.

Israel's other industries are also turning to the Web to reach consumers. Supermarket chain Supersol, cosmetics marketer Ahava and several hotel, kibbutz and travel groups have home pages, as do the Jerusalem Post, the Jerusalem Report, business daily Globes and Hebrew daily Ha'aretz.

Contributing to this story: Mir Maqbool Alam Khan, Bombay; Peter Brennan, San Jose, Costa Rica; James Careless, Kemptville, Canada; Michael J. Galetto, Buenos Aires; Sophie Hares, Caracas; Geoffrey Lee Martin, Sydney; Janine Stein, Hong Kong; Tara Sullivan, Santiago; Margo Lipschitz Sugarman, Jerusalem; Mary Sutter, Mexico City; and Maya Weber, Bangkok.

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