Stressing its search power, AltaVista to launch campaign

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While search engine rivals are busy promoting new commerce and content partners, Digital Equipment Corp.'s AltaVista breaks its first campaign in mid-November with an emphasis on search technology.

Created by DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, which handles Digital's corporate advertising, the $5 million to $10 million marketing effort uses the tag "Go deep."


AltaVista ranks fifth among search engines, according to Relevant Knowledge, with Yahoo! at the top with 14.6 million unique monthly visitors; followed by Excite, Infoseek Corp, Lycos and AltaVista, which has 5 million unique visitors. But the search engine counts 22 million daily keyword searches, which it says is more than its rivals, whose traffic is also divided between news and other content.

"People go to AltaVista when they want to find something specific," said Kathy Greenler, director of marketing at AltaVista. The campaign, which is running online, as well as in trade magazines and on radio and outdoor boards, is synergistic in look and tone to the Digital corporate campaign, which uses consumer testimonials paired with bold graphics.

It takes the position that "Whatever you're looking for you'll experience it with AltaVista," Ms. Greenler added.

For instance, one ad says "Search for love" next to a photograph of a baby, while another ad states "Search for yourself; go deep."

Digital's backing allows AltaVista to keep developing advanced indexing and antispam features, said Perry Allison, director of advertising and sponsorship sales at AltaVista.

This reflects a new positioning for AltaVista, which was originally conceived as a spinoff. Digital recently rescinded an August initial public offering for AltaVista.

"Our key message is AltaVista is incredibly powerful," Ms. Allison said, noting that it has indexed 100 million pages with a new system that blocks spam keywords. "It's clean and fresh and spam-free."

For instance, it recently stopped a porn company that tried to take advantage of traffic around the news of Princess Diana's death, by submitting repeated references to "Princess Di" for keywords.


AltaVista's marketing campaign is also exploring TV sponsorships. It is backing "Wild Wild Web," an entertainment program produced by Boston's OneZero Media, which broke last month in 150 markets nationally. The program will showcase AltaVista in its Web searches.

But as far as ad sales go, AltaVista is still trailing the major search engines. For one, it started selling advertising late. It's "part of the reason we're not on people's radar screen," said Ms. Allison.

"They have their brand loyalty" and a "decent cache of users," said Abhishek Gami, VP-Internet technology analyst, Nesbitt Burns Securities. But he adds, AltaVista still needs to raise its profile. "The name of the game here is branding."


But things are changing. The DoubleClick ad network, which AltaVista hired in December 1996, reports AltaVista's ad revenues were $4.6 million for the third quarter, up 65% from the second quarter.

In addition, AltaVista has just signed its first commerce partner,, which has agreed to be the exclusive bookseller on the site. It is looking into adding more commerce partners, but only when they make sense for the site, added Ms. Allison. "We still have work ahead of us."

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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