ZAPPING ZAPPERS

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The latest marketer to fight back against interactive television is MCI.

What! Attack interactive media? Isn't that where the action is?

Sure. Some day, maybe. Right now, however, the major interactivity between the TV set and the TV viewer involves the remote "wand" and zapping commercials. To keep the viewer's finger off the button, MCI has come up with a serial campaign a la the ever-lovin' Taster's Choice couple.

The roots of this campaign, for networkMCI Business services, trace back to early 1994 and MCI's striking, somewhat surreal commercials featuring 11-year-old Anna Paquin. Then came teaser spots from MCI in early September to introduce Gramercy Press, the fictional publishing house where the 12-part TV advertising series will take place.

There's a continuing cast of characters that embrace, or wrestle with, new MCI-provided technology. If public interest warrants, MCI will no doubt take a page from the Taster's Choice folks and alert the news media as to when and where the next ads will run.

Serial commercials seem to be the ad industry's strongest response so far to zapping, though the very limited tests of interactive TV spots do bear promise for the day when interactivity becomes widely available. Several beer companies have tried the serial approach, as have Pacific Bell, Ragu and others, including the Energizer Bunny.

But MCI has added a dimension. The never-ending Taster's Choice spots don't say an awful lot about the product, other than it seems to bind the two lovers together despite the travails of international travel and new-found offspring. The MCI benefits, on the other hand, will be more central in this drama as Gramercy Press switches from rolltop desks and quill pens to e-mail, faxes and phone call management. And there's even a finale.

If MCI pulls it off, even more mini-infodramas could start appearing. Take that, zappers.

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