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Zing Systems, the play-along interactive TV system preparing for a holiday launch, is making a play for advertisers.

Zing last week started a whirlwind tour of Madison Avenue, demonstrating to agencies and clients how they could use the device to send targeted messages to TV viewers and get immediate research results.

Among those listening: Bates USA, DDB Needham Worldwide and Pepsi-Cola Co. and its agencies, BBDO Worldwide, Tracy-Locke and Modem Media.

The challenge: Convincing skeptical executives that Zing is not only different from competitor Interactive Network, it's better.

But if the Interactive Network experience is any indication, Zing has an uphill battle ahead.

Zing plans to launch in a few markets by yearend, with a larger-scale rollout in 1995. Subscribers will be able to play along with sports, game shows and other TV programming using a small, handheld unit. Subscribers will be able to send signals back to a central location to participate in competitions and respond to ads.

That sounds a lot like Interactive Network, which since its 1991 launch has amassed only about 5,000 subscribers in northern California, Chicago and South Bend, Ind.

Zing claims several points of difference, the biggest being that its interactive programming is designed by participating TV networks and advertisers, rather than by Zing itself.

"We believe it's the people at the Arts & Entertainment Network and MTV that know their network best, that can program it best, as well as the advertisers that know their advertising best and can tie in the myriad retailer promotions, ongoing consumer promotions and brand image messages," said Scott Wills, Zing senior VP-marketing.

The system has already signed agreements with several cable networks and TV producers, including MTV, A&E and CNN, to add interactivity to their programming.

Zing plans to charge advertisers an initial fee of about $50,000 to test one brand on the system for up to a year. Advertisers will be able to add other brands at lower fees.

Leading the charge on Madison Avenue is Judy Tobey, who joined Zing late last month as director of advertiser licensee marketing. She was formerly director of sales for promotional services company Sunflower Group, Overland Park, Kan.

"What we like about it is the opportunity to be able to code up the existing cable networks with the software they do have," said Craig Gugel, senior VP-interactive media and research at Bates USA. "It's quite favorable."

Bates may consider using Zing for beverage and automotive clients, Mr. Gugel said. Its clients include Miller Brewing Co. and Hyundai Motor America.

Zing is also preparing to make its mark on the consumer front, hiring CKS Partners, Cupertino, Calif., as agency on its $10 million account last month. Ads are scheduled to break around the holiday season.

The basic Zing package, including a decoder and hand-held unit, will retail for $120 to $130, including a one-year subscription fee. Adding the ZingDialer to send back responses bumps the price to $170 to $180.

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