Online users go for facts over fun

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Entertainment was supposed to rule the day, but it's looking like plain old news and information are winning out when it comes to the reasons consumers go online.

As words like cyberspace, World Wide Web and Internet started entering the national lexicon a few years ago, cyber-experts said entertainment would drive the nation to the information superhighway.

Now, Americans are gravitating to online services and the Internet, and awareness of the World Wide Web has skyrocketed, according to an exclusive Advertising Age survey. But people are logging on for information, communication and research much more than for entertainment.

The fourth annual Advertising Age/Market Facts study of interactive media found that people who have been online in the past six months go there primarily to gather news and information (82%), use e-mail (80.5%) and conduct research (69.1%).

HOME PAGES DRAW USERS

A prime source of research material is marketer home pages. Market Facts' online user survey found 52.9% of respondents have visited a marketing company's home page.

Market Facts' TeleNation polling service conducted the telephone survey Sept. 6-11 among 1,000 randomly selected U.S. residents 18 and over.

A general questionnaire about awareness and usage of interactive media went to the entire group; a subsample of 500 people who have been online at least once in the past six months answered additional questions. Both surveys have a margin of error of three percentage points.

"The shift in applications from past years is striking," said Tom Mularz, VP-group manager of TeleNation. "The applications most popular now are information- or knowledge-based. People are using the Internet as a viable alternative to do research about products, or to help prepare school papers, or for work. The flip side is that shopping applications really appear to be dead in the water."

SHOPPING TRAILS

Just under 40% of online users said they participate in bulletin boards, 25.3% said chat sessions, 23.8% said games and 14.9% cited shopping.

Fewer than 5.4% of respondents cited those applications as being the online activity used most often.

Users said the activities on which they spend the most time are e-mail and research, both at 27.6%. Nearly 20% said they spend the most time gathering news or information.

This year, for the first time, the survey included surfing as an application, and nearly 67% said they surf when online, visiting random sites in no particular order. But despite the high popularity of surfing, only 11.9% said it was the activity on which they spend the most time.

Online users are generally interested in marketing applications. Of this group, 24.3% said they are very interested or interested in visiting the home pages of marketing companies; 47% said they are somewhat interested; and 28.4% they were not at all interested.

Advertising banners aren't getting lost in cyberspace, but they aren't revolutionizing marketing, either: Only about 10% of online users said they look at banner ads often or very often as they traverse the Web, and 44.2% said they never look at such ads. But 45% of respondents said they sometimes look at banner ads, indicating there is potential in this area.

Seeing ad banners and interacting with them are different things, however. Half the user group--50.3%--said they never click on ad banners.

Whether these figures bode well for online advertising is up for debate. Kathi Love, VP-research for Magazine Publishers of America, said magazine readers look at 75% to 85% of a magazine's pages and have the potential to see all the ads in a magazine.

"Having 45% of readers look at your ad would not be considered a good figure for magazines," she said.

`HEALTHY NUMBERS'

But Phil Sawyer, senior VP-director of advertising and media research for Roper Starch Worldwide, said the data are promising--to a point.

"These are very healthy numbers. In print advertising, you might get between 10% and 20% of readers who read half or more of the [ad] copy. But the people who are on the Internet at this point are so interested and curious because it's new."

Lynn Bolger, director of market research and planning at Internet ad rep firm Softbank Interactive Marketing, New York, also said the Market Facts numbers are promising for online advertising.

"Given that normally people will give a negative response on anything to do with advertising, those numbers are pretty good," she said.

Another type of advertising--using traditional media to promote Web sites--appears to be working to marketers' advantage. More than half of respondents to the online user poll said they visited Web sites because they saw the address mentioned in magazine or newspaper ads; 37.9% cited TV spots; 26.3% said direct mail pieces, 26% said product packaging and 19.3% said radio.

Commercial applications like shopping still are stalled online. Just 22.2% of the online users have purchased products or services online. The most common reason not to? Security concerns topped the list at 40.2%. Others said it's because they can't touch or feel the merchandise (26.8%); 18.4% aren't familiar with the merchant; and 14.7% find it too time consuming or difficult.

"There's no value in [shopping online]. I consider it a goofy trend," said one respondent.

Another reason people are not shopping online is because they access the Internet through their jobs.

"My access to the Web is at work; I don't do personal things there," said another respondent, echoing the sentiments of many.M

For more information about this survey, contact Tom Mularz at Market Facts at (847) 590-7238.

Copyright October 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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