Northern Light's $6 mil tries to stoke recognition

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Northern light Technology is betting a $6 million fall ad campaign that starts today will remedy one major problem: Most people have never heard of it.

CEO David Seuss freely admits the respected, robust search engine has unaided awareness of just 0.2%.

"We have to have 500 people in a room before we have one list Northern Light as one of their favorite search engines," he said.

The aggressive goal is to raise unaided awareness to 15% to 20% in the nine-week first wave of the campaign.

"With a positive result, Northern Light will extend the campaign indefinitely," said Mr. Seuss. If so, that could be a nearly $30 million play next year.

Northern Light will put most of its buy into network and cable TV, for one :30 starting today. Ads in hot business/tech magazines, such as Fast Company and The Industry Standard, and network radio also begin this week. It's the first advertising for Northern Light from Mullen, Wenham, Mass., which won the account in May.

EFFECTIVENESS TO BE EVALUATED

Edward Boches, Mullen's executive creative director, said there will be more spots next year assuming the campaign delivers.

For now, Northern Light is betting on one dramatic spot: A man enters a white room, clicks on a keyboard to start a search and is overwhelmed by information covering every surface. Suddenly, the walls again turn white, with information filed into blue folders ready to be clicked open.

"The World Wide Web," says the voice-over. "Forty million sites, 830 million pages, 60 billion words. And one search engine that prioritizes, categorizes and organizes it into neat little folders. Northern Light. Just what you've been searching for." Northern Light isn't mentioned till 25 seconds into the spot.

Northern Light is targeting "wired decisionmakers," who want a no-nonsense way to pluck specific information from the Web. Mr. Seuss said people tend to use multiple search engines, giving it a chance to elbow in.

Notably, Northern Light's new campaign isn't playing on the Web. The company last year and this year ran 300 million banner ads, via former interactive agency Circle Interactive, Boston.

"If you've never heard of the company, my conclusion is banner advertising is not effective," Mr. Seuss said.

Northern Light, which will evaluate an initial public stock offering next year, has raised $50 million in venture capital from backers including Hewlett-Packard Co., Reuters and Times Mirror Co.

NOT ALL CONTENT IS FREE

The site faces other obstacles, notably a long and curious name and an unusual business model in which users must pay to download some content.

Mr. Seuss said Northern Light ditched its original name -- Cyberbase --precisely because it wanted a non-techy brand with no baggage. Northern Light is named after a famed 1800s clipper ship, though the logo throws in a northern lights motif for good measure.

Michele Slack, an analyst with Jupiter Communications, said the site's serious challenges include its payment model.

"This isn't a new category where you can create new rules," she said. "Users are used to getting everything free."

Mr. Seuss contends serious users will pay to get useful information not readily available elsewhere.

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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