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John Sarsen ANA TOUTS INTERACTIVE, BUT MANY STILL SKEPTICAL

By Published on .

SAN DIEGO-The Association of National Advertisers last week tried to pick up the gauntlet where Ed Artzt threw it down.

Acting largely on the Procter & Gamble Co. chairman's clarion call-that the advent of interactive media threatens the survival ofadvertiser-supported vehicles-the ANA dedicated its entire annual conference to interactive, high tech issues.

"We're entering a complete new order," said Rishad Tobaccowala, VP-interactive marketing director at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "There are new tools and new skills to be learned."

"With all the new technologies, we are on the threshold of the rebirth of marketing communications," said John Sarsen in his first public address as ANA president. "At the [American Association of Advertising Agencies meeting in May], Ed Artzt sounded the bell clearly."

Despite Mr. Sarsen's buoyant comments, most ANA members in attendance said their financial commitment to interactive programs remains minuscule, and some marketers were clearly annoyed at the program focus.

"What we're talking about isn't reality, and it's hard to spend this much time on something that's not real," said one package goods marketing VP.

Most marketers find themselves in a situation like Jan Soderstrom, senior VP-marketing services for Visa USA and ANA chairman. Visa is involved in interactive marketing experiments, but as far as using interactive to market to its own consumers, "We have our toes in the water, but interactive is not an important part of our marketing budget yet."

Those selling consumer goods with smaller price tags are even less committed.

"We'll let the big guys try out interactive first," said Richard Garvey, VP-marketing of Lego Systems. "Then we'll look at it."

Though he said the program was "refreshing," Greg Lincoln, director-brand communications for Pillsbury Co., said, "We haven't cracked the code yet: What's the package-goods application for interactivity? I mean, we need to get a cost-per-transaction of less than a penny." Pillsbury has experimented with Prodigy Services and is evaluating Peapod, the computer-based grocery shopping system.

"Advertisers can't ignore interactive media, but your future remains with packaged mass media," said author and communications consultant Leo Bogart. The key is that "mass media does not have to mean huge numbers anymore."

Mr. Bogart said a larger threat is "the diminishing position of advertisers as media's key source of financial support ... More and more of [marketer] dollars are going into media dedicated to advertising, like direct mail, while a greater percentage of consumer dollars and time are going into media devoid of advertising."

GTE Corp. Assistant VP David Neisius estimated 54% to 60% of U.S. households will be served by interactive networks in 10 years; and while most Americans today use TV as a "story receiving vehicle," by the end of the century three-quarters of viewers will use time-shifted "appointment TV" or create a personal program lineup.

Though he dismissed as "myths" several beliefs about interactivity-such as the idea that consumers want that feature from their TVs-Nicholas Donatiello, president-CEO of researcher Odyssey Ventures, San Francisco, said 46% of homes with incomes of $50,000 or more have PCs and use them an average of 9 hours a week.

"People are doing something 9 hours a week-something that didn't exist 15 years ago," Mr. Donatiello said.

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