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Looked at in a certain way, the Web ad business can appear to be nothing but a giant shell game: The same companies that are the biggest buyers of advertising are also the biggest sellers of advertising.

According to the most recent Jupiter Communications spending report, the usual Internet suspects-computer and telecom giants, Internet search engines, and a handful of Web-related start-ups-make up two-thirds of all Web advertising, on either end of the business.

So where are the real consumer-goods marketers? Well, the Jupiter reports ranks Toyota at 13th with roughly $900,000 in spending, Procter & Gamble at 24th with less than $500,000-and it drops off from there.

To be sure, the Web is still a very new medium, and without going into the ongoing debate over Jupiter's methodology, it's indisputable that Internet advertising continues to grow at a rapid pace. But it lags far behind all other measured media, and won't overcome that until mainstream advertisers see value in reaching customers via the Net.

Some of that challenge is technical, and has to do with issues of reliable measurement and tracking, with solutions already being worked on in the marketplace and by the Internet Advertising Bureau. And some of it is educational, a task we'd like to see the IAB pay more attention to. If the Web is to grow, it is going to need promotion and marketing of its own. IAB's role in the coming year needs to include championing the value of Web advertising to a broad range of marketers.

Beyond that, some of this is just a waiting game. Many major marketers are indeed investing in the Web, but they're plowing their money into building Web sites, not advertising. Once their sites are built, though, a new factor will come into play: They'll have to advertise those sites to give them value.

History is on the Internet's side. In 1951, when TV was roughly the same age the Web is now, Advertising Age asked P&G's advertising chief why he still preferred radio over TV. There was no rush, he said. "At best, we believe television as an advertising medium has a bumpy, uneven road ahead of it." And look how that turned out.

The marketing team at the National Football League must have wondered at the unfairness of it all: Here was professional baseball, mired in horrible PR from player strikes and lockouts, alienating fans right and left, yet Hollywood treats baseball ever so kindly.

Yes, there is the occasional "Cobb" or, more recently, "The Fan," but most movies about the national pastime have been upbeat; such gossamer goodies as "The Natural" and "Field of Dreams" elevated baseball to the level of the supernatural.

Yet NFL football is portrayed as a destroyer of flesh and bones in such gritty flicks as "The Longest Yard" and "North Dallas Forty." Even the omnipresent blimp is a menace in "Black Sunday."

Not good. So the NFL has worked closely with TriStar Pictures on the making of "Jerry McGuire." Tom Cruise plays a sports agent competing to sign a top football rookie. He suffers some lapses of conduct, but apparently not fatal ones; NFL Properties, Reebok and others are tying in with the fall release. Media hype, including a sweepstakes promotion, will back the TriStar film.

If the movie is a hit, we can expect more such marketing tie-ins as the NFL polishes its Hollywood status. Anyone for "Gentle Persuasion: The Dick Butkus Story"?

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