PowerAgent, NetBot help advertisers reach Internet shoppers

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Two new startups hope to hatch the fabled golden egg of "one-to-one marketing" on the Net with the debuts of PowerAgent and Netbot.

PowerAgent, which opens for member sign-up today, is a Web and e-mail alert service for timely product bargains targeted to members' individual interests. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based service won't introduce paying advertisers until late October, but in the meantime the company hopes thousands of users will register at the site, according to President Dave Carlick.

INVITED AND RELEVANT

The service will target prospective customers by collecting standard anonymous demographic data, such as ZIP code, age and gender, and by letting users determine what product categories they are interested in receiving announcements about.

"If something is invited and relevant to you, it's information. If it's is uninvited and irrelevant, it's . . . advertising," Mr. Carlick said.

If a consumer registered with the site is looking for a car, airfare or golf equipment, for example, PowerAgent would send him a single e-mail digest each day with special offers on those products.

With Mr. Carlick's earlier successes, many industry watchers are eager to see if he's right again. Mr. Carlick joined PowerAgent in March after four years as Poppe Tyson's top interactive executive, where he also launched the DoubleClick ad network, a Poppe Tyson spinoff.

PowerAgent, founded in 1994 by CEO Dale Sundby, has received $17 million in venture capital from Discovery Ventures, EDS, St. Paul Venture Capital and others.

Bill Bass, an analyst at Forrester Research, said, "The bottom line is it puts you [the consumer] in control. You're no longer the passive recipient of some marketer's harebrained idea of what he thinks you want to see."

MASS AUDIENCE NEEDED

PowerAgent will lock in yearly ad rates of $5 to $30 cost per thousand impressions--depending on the targeting--for advertisers who sign up before yearend, Mr. Carlick said. The company already has advertising commitments from online media shops i-Traffic and Creative Media, among others. But to succeed, PowerAgent must produce critical masses of consumers and advertisers to make the swap worthwhile, and draw traffic to a site whose sole content is ultimately advertisements.

"They've got to pull that off. If they don't, this thing dries up and blows away," said Forrester's Mr. Bass.

Netbot, meanwhile, has a different take on "one-to-one" with its new shopping agent, Jango. a robot that scours the Net for the best commercial deals.

Using Jango, users can search for products and Jango will display a list of products available online, along with prices, direct shopping links and other relevant data.

Netbot will sell targeted banner ads and collect a sales commission from retailers who sign up for a partner program. Partners get access to Jango's anonymous consumer shopping data, as well as the ability to offer visitors special discounts at the time of their purchase decision making.

Copyright August 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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