Netscape has a ball with Microsoft chains

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Netscape Communications Corp. late this week starts a test of two Web banner ads that take a not-too-subtle hit at Microsoft Corp, part of a campaign to convince users they have a choice in browsers.

One banner shows the ankles of a prisoner shackled to ball and chains. "Break free," says the copy, intended to get PC users to click to a site to download Netscape's Communicator browser. The second banner shows an arrow on a sign that is pointed left, followed by an animation that adds an arrow pointing right. "Make the right choice," urges the copy.

Judy Logan, director of marketing communications, said the ads are a response to anecdotal evidence and e-mail from PC users who Ms. Logan said are bothered that their PC manufacturer or employer's computer services department installed another browser - namely, Microsoft's Internet Explorer - without giving users an option.

"We've heard anecdotally that people who are using other browsers are not completely happy that that choice has been made for them," Ms. Logan said. "We're being opportunistic here."

The banner campaign begins two weeks after research firm Dataquest reported Netscape's global browser market share fell to 57.6% in the third quarter, vs. 73% in last year's fourth quarter, as IE nearly doubled to 39.4% from 20%. Dataquest said IE could reach parity with Netscape as early as next year's second quarter.

Netscape, citing traffic on search sites, this week claimed it has a 67% share. Ms. Logan said Netscape is operating on the offensive, not the defensive.

"It's safe to say that we're being aggressive," Ms. Logan said. "We're putting our heels into the sand, and we're not going to let go."

The new banner ads will run on one or two search sites. Netscape will analyze results late next week to decide whether to expand the campaign broadly.

The banner effort was created on a project basis by Corvelle, a new-media boutique in Calgary, British Columbia.

This is not Netscape's first banner blast against its giant software rival. In a midyear Web campaign, Netscape tweaked Microsoft's slogan with banner ads saying, "It's not where you want to go today. It's how you want to get there."

Meanwhile, Netscape this week adds a "sniffer" feature to its home page that detects what browser a visitor is using and then delivers a targeted message; IE and Communicator users will get different messages. This marks the first time the home page has delivered a targeted message to IE users.

Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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