ProductView Interactive, Cambridge, Mass., is quietly starting to line up partners for a test that could begin as early as this summer.
The stand-alone service is designed as a database for "considered purchases," offering consumers in-depth information-via text, pictures and sound-about automobiles, travel, consumer electronics, computers and other high-ticket products.
ProductView plans to use a unique incentive system to convince marketers to advertise on, and consumers to use, the service.
After creating an interactive ad for the system, marketers will pay only when consumers go online to get information about their products. What marketers pay depends on how much information the consumer requests, and how much information about the consumer the marketer wants.
ProductView is hoping to form partnerships with video retailers and cable companies that will allow members to rack up credits toward video rentals or cable TV bills by using the service. The more information they gather, the more credits they will earn.
"Our primary mission is to become the most efficient medium for interactive advertising until [there are] 500 channels," said Robert Young, president of ProductView, who this month is starting official presentations to ad agencies and advertisers.
The 3-month-old company brings together a diverse group of partners.
Mr. Young, 31, the former VP-business development at Delphi Internet Services, helped orchestrate that company's sale to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. last fall before leaving in December to start the new business.
Marv Goldschmitt, 43, VP-marketing, was one of the original employees of Lotus Development Corp. and was involved with the introduction of Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983.
Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab and a leading authority on interactive media, is chairman of ProductView's Media Advisory Committee.
ProductView has also formed relationships with Redgate Communications Corp., a Vero Beach, Fla.-based high tech communications company; ad agency Duval Woglom Brueckner & Partners, Boston; and Next Century Media, a New Paltz, N.Y., new-media consultancy.
But despite those high-profile partners, drumming up ad support may not be easy.
ProductView hopes to provide information about every product in a specific category, from sport-utility vehicles to laptop computers.
That means convincing competing marketers to spend $50,000 upfront to develop a multimedia ad and put it on the system.
The categories ProductView is targeting-big-ticket items and travel-are being bombarded daily by new-media companies with the next big idea in interactive advertising.
And despite the planned incentive of credits toward cable bills or video rentals, consumers won't turn to an ad-only service if there isn't enough information available or if it's not presented in an enticing way.
Mr. Young acknowledged the hurdles.
"There is a chicken and egg problem here," he said. "It's my job to make sure our management team balances that chicken and egg like a seesaw. We believe there is enough interest in interactive advertising by advertisers that we can ... start attracting a nice chunk of the people who are already online today."
Next Century will sign up marketers for ProductView.
"What'll happen is you'll have a number of advertisers initially who'll say, `We'll try this,"' said Doug McFarland, VP-broadcast marketing at Next Century. "If it's a good business, others will come immediately."
In the meantime, ProductView is gearing up for its planned summer test. The test is expected to reach 10,000 consumers and include products in the automobile, consumer electronics, computers/communications, financial services and travel categories, Mr. Young said. Consumers will be able to order the software at no charge by calling an 800-number.
Redgate is developing an ad prototype that ProductView will take on sales calls. The ad features Norwegian Cruise Line, a Redgate client believed to be interested in using the service.
Duval will work on consumer marketing and strategic planning. The agency, which also counts Delphi as a client, will help identify the 10,000 test participants through direct marketing to online users and other techno-savvy consumers.
One agency executive familiar with ProductView said the company's approach adds a new marketing twist.
"The potential, I think, is to learn about how to create interactive ads in a setting that is highly promotional in nature," said Martin Nisenholtz, senior VP-director of Ogilvy & Mather Direct's Electronic Marketing Division, New York. "They're basically creating incentives for people to use advertising. That's never been done before."