Web scavenger hunts are fast becoming the hottest media buy since the hyperlink.
Now that scores of marketers are building homes on the World Wide Web, the challenge is not only to get surfers to stop by their site but to get them to return. Sponsored contests that take consumers all over the Web in search of clues may be the answer.
CompuServe on July 14 launches the $1 Million Internet Hunt, starting just after PC Expo and ending at Comdex on Nov. 14. The online service hopes to expand its business in several ways: generate more traffic to its Internet site, increase users' online time and groom relationships with marketers on its Electronic Mall.
"We're focused on hooking the next wave of Internet people-the not-so-early adopters," said Lisa Thorell, VP-marketing at CompuServe/Spry Internet division. "We want the folks enticed by well-known merchandising methods in consumer marketing, and contests are just that."
CompuServe's Hunt will revolve around clues that can be sponsored by marketers. Each week there'll be five new clues, the answers to which lie somewhere in the sponsors' Web sites. Winners will be entered in a weekly drawing for prizes, as well as the grand prize-a Nissan 300ZX.
There are three levels of sponsorship for the Hunt. A gold sponsorship, costing $75,000, will buy a monthly banner on the contest's home page at http://www.compuserve.com and five clues. A $10,000 silver sponsorship secures a monthly banner on one of the category pages, while a $5,000 bronze sponsorship gets a marketer a single clue placement. Sponsors are encouraged to barter their products or services as prizes for the value of the clue.
CompuServe is working with Free Range Media, a Seattle-based Web development company, to coordinate the contest and build sites for marketers that are interested in participating but aren't yet on the Web.
CompuServe signed C/Net, a computer network (http://www.cnet.com), to a gold sponsorship; DealerNet (http://www.dealernet.com) purchased a silver sponsorship. CMP Publications (http://www.techweb.cmp.com/techweb) also is a partner in the Internet hunt.
"Players learn their way around the Web and can win prizes every week, while sponsors get exposure as well as significant demographic information about who goes to their site," said Todd McIntyre, business development manager in the CompuServe/Spry Internet division.
CompuServe has contracted Internet Profiles Corp. to register users and track usage patterns and characteristics of the players.
"A big goal of running such a contest is obviously to drive up connect-time revenue," said Ms. Thorell. "Users are playing a highly addictive game, and the more time they spend online, the more money we make on connect time."
CompuServe will spend about $500,000 promoting the Internet Hunt. A four-month print campaign developed by Quinn Fable, a New York agency, will run in all CMP publications. In addition, some CMP titles will come polybagged with a free Internet Hunt disc along with coupons for CompuServe/Spry products Internet in a Box and Mosaic in a Box. Packaging for both products also will promote the Hunt at the retail level.
"This is a real business development platform for us," said Mr. McIntyre. "We expect to drive traffic to retail stores, increase connect time, attract sponsors to our Electronic Mall and generally expand our Internet presence."
Another company, Interactive Imaginations, a New York-based interactive entertainment developer, created the Riddler in mid-April, a site where surfers can solve riddles and puzzles for cash prizes (http://www.riddler.com). Marketers can sponsor trivia categories; the answers reside in the sponsors' Web sites.
"We are marrying two real clear interests here," said Michael Paolucci, the company's 24-year-old president. "Entertaining Web surfers and guaranteeing marketers a high level of traffic to their sites."
Coors Brewing Co.'s Zima, Ameritech and Silicon Graphics signed on to Riddler as charter sponsors at $6,500 per month, or $15,000 for three months.
"The guys at Riddler have figured out an exciting way to turn a flat advertising approach into a captivating interactive experience," said Kris Hagerman, director of WebFORCE, Silicon Graphics' Internet division. "Enticing someone to your site is what it's about. And something like Riddler really takes advantage of the Web's linkage potential."
The Riddler site, which requires people to register demographic and psychographic information before playing, logs more than 180,000 hits per day. A typical Riddler player visits the site about 100 times a month and the company has already awarded more than $10,000 in cash to winners.
"Because these people are coming through our site 100 times a month, we can stagger a series of messages," said Mr. Paolucci. "We know exactly who is playing, how many times they play and what their interests are."
However, the type of user a scavenger hunt will attract isn't necessarily the target a Web marketer wants to reach.
"Probably the most attractive people with a lot of money don't have time to be playing games," said Rick Spence, an analyst with Dataquest, San Jose, Calif.
Still, Web hunts are becoming popular with individual marketers, especially movie promoters.
TriStar Pictures' "Johnny Mnemonic" (http://www.sony.com) and Warner Bros.' "Batman Forever" (http://www.batmanforever.com) each are using games to promote their films. "Johnny Mnemonic's" online contest, created by Vivid Studios, San Francisco, logged more than 100,000 visitors a day in its three-week run between May 18 and June 1, convincing TriStar sister unit Columbia Pictures to do a similar contest for this summer's release of "The Net."
"Online contests make sense because it's a great way to piggyback on a property, like the popularity of [`Johnny Mnemonic' star] Keanu Reeves or [`The Net' star] Sandra Bullock," said Steven Yee, director of marketing for Sony New Technologies.
Marketers should be wary of online hunts becoming too gimmicky or too difficult, Dataquest's Mr. Spence cautioned.
"There's a potential danger that consumers walk away with a bad feeling that you won't want associated with your product," he said. "But with the industry obsessed with value and commerce, I applaud those who are focusing on better ways of getting people on the Internet in the first place."