VIEWPOINT: AN APPALLING 'KILLER IDEA': A WEB AD LULL

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To market its new online gaming network Heat.Net, SegaSoft and agency Ground Zero, Santa Monica, Calif., created a fictional "CyberDiversion" movement as part of an elaborate promotional program. This faux-cult describes the human urge to kill as primal and prescribes violent online games-"guiltless killing"-as the safest way to channel murderous intentions.

In addition to setting up more than a dozen Web sites, Ground Zero's marketing playbook includes plans

to organize phony demonstrations, establish a fictional headquarters for the movement and plaster college campuses with posters. "A life killed in cyberspace is a life saved on Earth," reads one slogan for the movement.

It's hard to envision any period of time when such a marketing strategy would be appropriate. But coming on the heels of the largest mass suicide in U.S. history and the violent, untimely deaths of young rap artists, this campaign strikes us as particularly horrific and insensitive.

No doubt blowing away baddies in videogames is a way for some people to blow off steam, and animated ads for some games are already quite graphic in the violence they present. Nevertheless, SegaSoft and Ground Zero have managed to cross a line. Not only do they represent these games as a way to channel aggression, they go so far as to say that it's "OK" for humans to want to kill other humans. "It's not our fault any more than breathing or urinating," according to the publicity materials.

This isn't clever; it's reprehensible, and it confirms critics' worst fears about the lack of morals and ethics in the ad business.

If they're looking for a way to divert aggressive impulses, SegaSoft and Ground Zero should kill this marketing strategy. We'd call that guiltless killing.

Web advertising took a nose dive last quarter, but it's not time to start crying that the sky is falling.

Marketers have simply taken a well-advised step back to assess the Web as a viable communications medium. While that's leaving some Web publishers sweating, it's also an opportunity for them to take a second look at their own goals.

Marketers remain committed to the Internet as a part of their communications mix. In fact, 90% of those surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers have a Web site, and they spend an average of $216,000 per year on site maintenance. But Internet advertising is a very different story: Most marketers said they spend less than $100,000 a year to advertise online (see related story on Page 38).

The knee-jerk reaction is to dash out to try to convince marketers to advertise more on the Net. But advertising is probably not the Net's holy grail even if it may be the Net buzzword of the moment.

For smart marketers, the Internet isn't merely an advertising medium; it's a way to turn their entire marketing, sales and distribution system into a more efficient machine. When companies such as 3M talk about digitizing their 60,000-product inventory for use on the Internet, intranets and CD-ROMs, it's pretty far removed from advertising.

We've said for a while now that we expect Internet advertising to grow at a slower pace this year than last. That's not because marketers are disenchanted with the Net. They're just going to get more sophisticated about what they do

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