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CRITIQUE: AST Computer is betting that its "playable banner ads," which launched last week on ESPN and CNET, will be compelling enough to drive click-throughs to its site. And it's a good bet. In a trial run of the ads on CNN/SI in March, the click-through rate was 30%.

The ads, created by W-3 Design using Macromedia Corp.'s Shockwave and Enliven, a new animation tool from Narrative Communications, feature games within the banners. The first ad is designed like a slot machine, and users try to score by lining up three AST logos.

It's not quite Vegas, but it is sort of addicting. Who doesn't want to hit the jackpot? Especially game geeks who are the target audience for AST computers. After watching lemons, cherries and bells roll around the banner, it's a real buzz seeing those AST logos line up.

The only problem is, you don't win anything. Instead of money pouring out of your PC, you get linked to the AST site, which makes you feel sort of cheated.

AST realizes this, and is working to take out the automatic link to its site.

"This could make people angry," said Gavin Dougherty, manager, communication services at AST Computer, Irvine, Calif., which spent about $3,000 creating the ad. The media placement budget was not disclosed.

More important than click-throughs is building brand awareness, Mr. Dougherty said. And that seems to be working. During three games, the AST logo came up an average of eight times.

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