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CHICAGO-More than 300 marketing and media professionals absorbed a daylong dose of interactive reality at the first annual Midwest Interactive Conference here last week.

Sponsored by the Tribune Co.-and presented by Advertising Age, Northwestern University's Institute for the Learning Sciences, and Interactive Insights-the conference focused on new-media developments, the challenges of interactive marketing and the shifting role of agencies.

Panelists expressed confidence that interactive technologies will have a profound impact on consumer behavior but tried to neutralize the hype with a healthy dose of cynicism.

Barry Layne, VP-director of Ketchum Interactive, Los Angeles, warned marketers that despite all the attention being focused on the Internet, there are only 2 million users of the popular Mosaic browser.

"Arcane doesn't begin to tell the story," Mr. Layne said of most such Internet access tools.

Some panelists questioned the wisdom of marketers investing in technologies that have yet to be deployed, while agency executives defended their decisions to encourage clients to invest in once-hyped projects like Time Warner's delayed Full Service Network in Orlando, Fla.

Keynote speaker Roger Schank, director of the Institute for the Learning Sciences, set a somewhat cynical tone for the day, calling most interactive efforts today ineffective and off-target.

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