PREACHING TO THE CONVERTED: SPRINGER NOW HAS HIGH HOPES FOR THE NET, NEXTCARD

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Dan springer is still trying to live down a bold forecast he made during a 1994 presentation.

"I said the Internet would be the Hula Hoop of the 90s. Not only did I say it, I put it on a slide," he admits. "I'm ridiculed for it to this day."

But now, as chief marketing officer of NextCard, he preaches the cyber gospel with the zeal of the converted.

He should. NextCard, marketer of the NextCard Internet Visa, is one of the largest advertisers on the Internet. The company pushes its cards -- which include a Dilbert Visa and the personalized PictureCard -- via a saturation campaign of banner ads. Arnold Ingalls Moranville, San Francisco, handles all its advertising. In one typical week last month, its online ads reached 13.5% of the Web population with 31 million impressions, ranking NextCard No. 6 among Web advertisers, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

"We like to think of ourselves as direct marketers on steroids," says Mr. Springer. "We do things well, and we do a lot of it."

NextCard tests banner ads on hundreds of sites to find the right mix of site and message. The company has a database of thousands of combinations, says Mr. Springer. One such pair: a message touting NextCard's instant approval feature and a site with a young demographic aimed at instant gratification.

Done right, banner ads can be a great customer acquisition tool -- key in credit cards -- says Mr. Springer. But many Web companies mistakenly blow their media spending on TV and radio ads that can't break through the clutter, he says.

"They don't take the time to do their learning," he says.

Mr. Springer is a big believer in research -- from his days as a consultant with McKinsey & Co., working with telecommunications and computer companies. That left him with no excuse for his 1994 Hula Hoop forecast, he now admits.

Five years later, he thinks the Web has untapped potential in areas such as business-to-business communications.

"There's going to be tons of Internet companies that fail, but there's also going to be a large number of companies that you'd never think of," he says.

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