Sunday, May 27, 2001

New Economy

Banner ads giving way to games

        Except for those folks really desperate to find their old high school classmates, most people most of the time ignore the ads they see as they cruise the Web.

        Banner ads just don't work well, and the recent moves to make ads bigger only seem to make them more annoying. The future, many say, is in “rich media”: As more users connect to the Internet through fast broadband services such as Zoomtown and Road Runner, advertisers will build ads fat with sound and motion.

        That could only make the ads annoying and loud, but startup Adternity of Cincinnati thinks that it has a better way: games.

        The company recently unveiled its game Adversity, a trivia game based on advertising that cleverly involves the player in learning about a product. It asks for product names, asks about product attributes, plays commercials and then asks questions about them.

        The advertiser only pays Adternity when the game is played, and Adternity splits the revenue with game Web sites, encouraging them to direct players that way.

        Adternity's game is being tested by three Procter & Gamble brands — Tide detergent, Pur water filters and IAMS pet foods. You can play the game at Adternity's site ( or at the game site Trancos ( — where two-thirds of its 3 million monthly visitors are women — to see how it's supposed to work.

        The game steers players toward information they'll use, toward information the advertiser wants them to see, and away from what they know well or won't use. Dog owners playing an IAMS game, for instance, won't be fed info on cat food. If you answer “tap water” instead of “home filtered water” when asked which is closer to bottled water, you'll be introduced to the benefits of Purfiltered water products.

        The information can be split any number of ways. The Adternity engine can show different information to men or women, young or old, or in any other way the advertiser wants to segment its audience.

        This beats slapping a banner ad on a game, Adternity CEO Jay Woffington says. “You remember it better. You have a higher purchase intent.”

        At P&G, Tide assistant brand manager Bob Gilbreath said Tide has its own Web site ( and has been down the banner-ad road, but he wants to do better.

        “The goal was to try to get a deeper brand sell than you can with TV,” he said. “With Tide being a premium brand, we're always trying to get that news out there.”

        Tide's test with Adternity runs through June, and groups at the University of Cincinnati and Vanderbilt University will test the game's effectiveness: Are people playing the game and having fun? Are they learning what the advertiser wants them to learn?

        Mr. Woffington won't discuss early stats on traffic and other measures. Right now, he and his partners are working to build more partnerships with game and sweepstakes sites.

        Andy Bartels, research leader for e-business at Giga Information Group, said it's going to be like war to solve the online advertising problem.

        “There's this struggle right now trying to figure out how do you break through, how do you create effective advertising, something that's going to be read, and that will have either the persistence and clarity of a print ad or the emotional appeal of a TV ad,” he said. “That's the challenge. I don't know of anybody who's got good solutions. I do know there are lots of companies trying to crack this code.”

        E-mail John Byczkowski at or call (513) 768-8377. Find a list of local New Economy companies at


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