OPINION: A member of the class speaks back

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Companies large and small are trying to "establish a presence" on the Internet. But in many cases, all they seem to be doing is putting static print ads in an interactive environment.

I am your target audience. I'm a 'Net-savvy 18-to-34-year-old male. I want information. I want it to look nice, and I want to have fun while I'm getting it.

As Advertising Age's Interactive Media & Marketing intern last summer I saw a lot of commercial Web sites. I saw a lot of good college tries and a lot of "professionally" done sites that aren't hitting the mark.

Take Rogaine.

There is nothing here that isn't on the brand's TV spots or print ads. The copy even seems to read the same. Was there a need for this on the Web? Would anyone ever think to look on the Web for this kind of information? Would anyone spend much time here even if they found it, since they've probably heard it all before?

Speaking as someone who, as both a 'Net-head and a balding-head, couldn't be more their target audience: I'm still not interested.

The reason is that it fails to take advantage of the medium. Rogaine presents you with information and expects you to passively read it. It's about as interactive as physically turning pages. There is no way to interact with the Rogaine people other than an 800-number. In short, there is nothing to draw me further into this site, and that is a missed opportunity.

Here's another example:

Ticketmaster plans to offer a service that many people would like to be able to do online: buy tickets for events. It isn't yet available, but the site is still valuable for anyone who has ever bought a ticket. Ticketmaster took good content, refreshed it and gave it a good look and some great interactive tools.

Of course, they don't answer their e-mail, which is a problem.

If you offer some form of feedback forum for your readers to respond to you, respond to them. I want a human to answer my mail. I don't want "Thank you for sending mail to customer-service.ticketmaster.com. A real person will read your message in due course."

Notice that it never says that a real person will get back to you.

Want more examples? The Saturn site has never sent me the paper pamphlet I asked for months ago. This is a brand targeted right at me, yet their idea of "Communicate with Saturn" is "You've probably already noticed that Saturn doesn't have an e-mail address--yet. We're working on it, but we're waiting to list an e-mail address until we can promise a speedy, personal response. In the meantime, we do have toll-free numbers ..."

This site has existed for months. There is no excuse for this.

Still want my advice? Here goes:

First, realize that the Web is an incredible and still developing new medium. If you're going to do it, do it right. Spend some time surfing, find what you like, find what works for you, then talk to some Web designers.

You're talkin' 'bout my generation, but talk with us too.

Matt is a senior at Northwestern University. You can find his Web pages at http://charlotte.acns.nwu.edu/charm/, or you can e-mail him at mattc@nwu.edu. He checks his mail every two minutes and responds to it almost as often.

Copyright November 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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