By Published on .

WHEN CHINA ORDERS ITS COMPUTER USERS TO REGISTER with the police within 30 days, and Germany insists that be shut down, you know it's time to start paying attention to the Internet. Maybe even close attention. Never mind that you're already sick of hearing about it.

The Internet is here, its effect will be profound, and top creative people are paying attention-if only long enough to check their e-mail, download a pic of nude apartment house wrestlers or see how mundane other agencies' home pages can be. How and when it will become important enough to warrant their creative attention is the crucial question. So we asked some of them.

Jeff Goodby of San Francisco's Goodby , Silverstein & Partners likens these early days of the Internet to the invention of the movie camera. "It took a while to get Charlie Chaplin and United Artists interested," he says. He figures the Charlie Chaplin of the Interne t is about 10 years old right now, and while Charlie struggles through adolescence, creative people will be struggling through the growing pains of a medium that can't yet be regarded as a creative advertising tool. Never mind what it could be maybe five years down the road, when more cities are hard-wired. Right now it's frustrating, limiting and too damn slow. But it can't be ignored. Clients want Web sites; Levi's is cool, says Goodby. And although he doe sn't spend much time surfing, he does send people e-mail when the context of the notes will seem funnier that way. "It will attract the best creative people eventually," he assures us. "But right now, if I went down the hall wit h a CD-ROM job or a Web site project, I think I'd find a lot of people out of town."

Vicky Niemiec is the creative supervisor for new media at Martin/Williams, erstwhile home to the Compuserve account. She is one of those rare left -right brainers; she has 18 years of big- agency copywriting and broadcast production experience, but she also studied programming in college. She spends about an hour a day on the Net, doing research, checking out chat rooms, hiri ng people. Yes, hiring people. "I was on AOL in the Minnesota Room, and I met this 18-year-old kid who wanted me to buy some art," she says. "I looked at his online portfolio, and we started to chat. Now he's our resident cyberp unk."

Lyle Wedemeyer, Martin/ Williams creative director, confesses his own computer is a slug, so he spends only an hour or two a week on the Net, mostly to exchange bon mots with his two brothers in Honolulu. "The more I get in to it, the more intimidating it is for me," he says. "But I do think it's for real, and that it will be valuable in a lot of ways. The downside is finding the time. I don't even have time to take a walk."

Wedemeyer is not alone. At the Martin Agency in Richmond, copywriter Joe Alexander says it doesn't fit his lifestyle, which includes alternately playing sports or hauling his kids around so they can play sports. Last year, however, he cruised the Net to g et the British Open golf updates, hole by hole, with global commentary.

Lee Kovel, at Kovel Kresser & Partners, Los Angeles, is one of those early adopters; he helped name Prodigy when it was still a $100,000 account. Not surprising ly, he exchanges e-mail with about 100 people and spends about three hours a week on the Net-at home, for fun. He likes visiting the NASA site to watch live photography from space. He likes CU-See Me (in which a camera is focused u sually on some guy's apartment); he checks ski reports and mountain bike equipment reviews, and he mail orders stuff.

"I love the Internet," says Phil Hanft, creative director at Sietsema Engel & Partners, Minneapolis. "It's a ne w toy. It's the future. It's fun. It's like a hobby." He used to spend countless hours on "my Maserati," as he dubs his Power PC, then decided he had to quit. But he couldn't stay away, and now confines his pursuits to an offshoot of the Whole Earth Catalog called @tlas, downloading software, and ordering CDs.

Tom McConnaughy of McConnaughy Stein Schmidt Brown, Chicago, downloads gourmet recipes on the weekends, when he spends about four hours online. He adds another two or three hours a week, and figures his agency, which subscribes to Compuserve, AOL, and an Internet provider, probably totes up a fortune in hours. "You can get a little hooked," he says.Matt Thornhill, president a t the Martin Agency's Martin Interactive, says the only site he visits regularly is Suck, where every day a new editorial appears at 4 p.m. Although he acknowledges "a lot of marketers have done a lot of cool things," and he is r ightly proud of the Coca-Cola site his agency created, he estimates about 95 percent of Internet content is crap: "Tide Online? 'Let's talk about our surfactants?' Let's not."

It seems most creatives don't embrace the Net, exactly, but neither do they look down their noses quite as far as they do at direct marketing and sales promotion, even though it contains elements of both. About 40 percent of Internet revenue came from advertising in 1995, says one st udy; in 2000, it will be more than double that. Hanft thinks it may become an important branding medium, but it won't replace broadcast advertising. Thornhill, who espouses CD Mike Hughes' vision that the Internet is not an informa tion dirt road where you have to wait for pictures, but is where advertising is going, thinks it won't attract creative people until they can get famous doing it. "For writers and art directors today" he explains, "if you're wor king on the Internet, it means you're not working on TV and print-which is where you get awards and get paid."

For all those who don't think the Internet is the mass media's version of the second coming, Roz Greene, creative direct or at Hill Holliday Altschiller, New York, is on your side. A copywriter, she's disenchanted with the whole concept, which she calls "seriously alienating" for its lack of human connection. "What I find is that I sit trapped in front of this machine, pretending to be finding out what I need to, but most of it is irrelevant," she complains. "It's certainly not as great a resource as life away from the Internet," though she admits she is still a lemming in this area. "To an extent it's a crock, or I suspect it is. It's like a typewriter-it depends on what you put into it and take out of it."Kovel figures it won't attract the best creative people any time soon-not until a Web site gets Joe Pytka's day rate, or until it costs $1 million to run it. "It's still an overly hyped medium," he says. "If you're into it, it's a good tool, but you don't win business by doing a nice Web page. Yet."

Goodby thinks it will eventually be as "fun and interesting as TV; in fact, TV and computers will rise and meet each other at some point, somewhere up the pyramid." Right now, though, those who are ISDN-bereft prefer to gambol, and work, offline . As Thornhill puts it, "The Internet is slightly better than looking at a magazine, about on par with Pac Man and second-generation video games, and a far cry from TV as entertainment. When I want entertainment, I watch 'Friends. '

So what are we going to do about this creative savior, this Charlie Chaplin of

Most Popular
In this article: