Smart ads leave the concept of linking behind

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Proximity and immediacy are two terms getting more attention from Web marketers.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the rash of developing technologies that allow advertisers to deliver customized information and even perform a transaction without ever leaving the confines of a banner, icon or frame.

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First Virtual Technologies last week launched a new technology called Virtual Tag that embeds a number of forms within a banner and streams additional information into the ad.


ICon New Media, meanwhile, used frames to create Happy Bookworld, a feature that lets users purchase books from without leaving ICon's zine Word.

And online media planning company i-Traffic is developing a strategic campaign for new client CD-Now that will let users buy music from the online retailer.

Bell Atlantic Corp. and United Cerebral Palsy Fund have already launched campaigns using First Virtual's new banner technology (demonstrated at Additionally, a number of large media companies are considering using Virtual Tag to showcase their content and let users subscribe to a publication right from the banner.

Not only do advertisers love the ability to deliver sophisticated content and transaction capabilities right on a banner, but Web sites like the prospect of being able to charge higher rates to advertisers, contingent upon the depth of involvement of each user.

"If you can embed a transaction inside a banner, or somehow get more information inside, then you've avoided losing a customer on your own site," said Bob King, general manager of First Virtual. "The more that's involved in the banner or the deeper the level of interaction it offers to the user, the more you can charge for the banner space."


There is one catch: In order to conduct transactions on one of the Tag banners, a user needs to have an account with First Virtual, which markets software providing virtual commerce applications.

ICon and i-Traffic are also launching programs for clients that offer unique opportunities for targeting and commerce.

Icon's Happy Bookworld is a spin on's successful partners program, which encourages sites to review books and refer buyers to

In the case of Word, visitors can read reviews and purchase books from without ever leaving the Word site.

ICon uses frame technology to split the page into two parts: one showing the Word site and the other showing Icon receives a cut of the revenue of books sold from their site.

"We don't want to disrupt users' experience online," said Tom Livaccari, VP-publisher of ICon. "People come here to read content, and if they decide to buy a book or something else, why make them go to another site if we can do it from our own? Once people leave the site, browsers could crash, etc., and then they're gone."


i-Traffic is now developing a program for CD-Now that also incorporates revenue-sharing based on sales. i-Traffic will place icons throughout the Web in editorial situations where it "contextually makes great sense" for a link to CD-Now to appear, said Scott Heiferman, president of i-Traffic.

"It's very similar to editorial adjacencies in print. If there's an article on Madonna on some site, users would probably be interested in linking to the exact page in the CD-Now catalog that features Madonna," he said.

All these efforts are spins on the "bridge page" concept, in which marketers developed mini-sites that acted as a bridge between an editorial site and the marketer's home page.

But as marketers have gotten more Net-savvy, they've realized that the fundamental rule about striking while the iron is hot is just as applicable on the Web. So linking to Web sites and even to separate pages is giving way to smart banner ads.


Even iVillage, creator of traditional "bridge" sites for Polaroid Corp., MGM/United Artists and Starbucks, is experimenting with various models that move the content that formerly existed within a bridge site into a window on the content site itself.

"The most important thing is giving users that information and content that they want," said Deanna Vincent, VP-market development at iVillage, creator of online communities Parent Soup, About Work and Vices & Virtues. "Most times corporate sites are too generic to appeal to an individual user; bridge sites [and variations thereof] offer the brand experience, while still providing an ability to tailor the content for a specific audience."

Copyright February 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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