Ad Format Great for Creator, But It Won't Answer Banners' Problems, Expert Says

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Online gaming company nineCo Inc. last week introduced the "e-mercial," a new advertising format on its Gamesville site -- www.gamesville.com -- designed to do what banners have generally failed to do: monopolize attention and draw response. But while the new format looks promising for nineCo, it doesn't answer all of banner advertising's shortcomings, according to at least one industry expert.


"We're real down on banners," said Steven Kane, president of nineCo., Boston. "We actually think they should be sold on a cost-per-million rather than a cost-per-thousand impressions basis," he said referring to industry estimates that average banner click-through (response) rates are about a half a percent.


Similar to so-called intersticials (animated advertisements that appear in a separate window), e-mercials are full-screen advertisements that appear during breaks in the action at Gamesville.


Each hour on Gamesville is broken into six 10-minute segments consisting of eight-minute games with two-minute e-mercials between each game. Gamesville's e-mercials include links to advertisers' Web sites. During intermissions, nineCo provides a window with the time remaining until the next game so players can click through the ad and navigate through an advertiser's Web site without fear of missing the start of a contest.


Also, each two-minute e-mercial is not limited to one advertiser. Viewers can click a button to bring up a new ad anytime. Potentially, they can view up to eight ads during a two-minute session.


While the e-mercial capitalizes on the Net's interactivity, the format will have limited applications outside the Gamesville site, said Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.


"The thing [Gamesville] does very nicely is it has the ability to engage users in an experience versus just trying to bombard them with a message," Nail said.


"[But] you have to have a site structure that creates commercial breaks, which really exists only in the game world; and only a limited target audience is involved in that type of content," he said. Just 25 percent of online users play games, compared to 46 percent who research products and services. And of the game players, 75 percent are under 25 year old, according to Forrester.


"[The e-mercial] is not going to be the one and only answer to the banner," Nail said.


Still, Gamesville apparently has the demographic limitations of running a gaming site beat. Just 26 percent of its members are from 18 to 24 years old, according to nineCo.


Gamesville's contests include Acey Deucy, Pop Quiz trivia, two forms of Bingo, Picturama where contestants guess a celebrity's identity as bits of a picture are revealed, Crystal Ball -- where contestants try to predict the outcome of current events -- and Sports Madness: The World's Biggest Office Pool.


"We're the biggest source of wasted time on the Internet [accounting for] approximately 44 million wasted minutes per month," Kane said. Gamesville delivers more than 93 million page impressions per month and averages a whopping 34 minutes per visit, according to nineCo. The average Web site visit is six or seven minutes.


Gamesville awards about 14,000 prizes per month, mostly in the $2 and $3 range.


Contestants must register their names, addresses, e-mail addresses, gender, marital status, occupation and education for ad-targeting purposes.


NineCo said that it has 1.2 million registered players and that more than 750,000 have subscribed to a lighthearted e-mail newsletter on which sponsorships are available. Some 525,000 contestants also have opted to receive direct e-mail advertising, and more than 7,500 people send the firm change of addresses per month, indicating that the database is clean, Kane said.


Sometime in early 1999, nineCo plans to announce a relationship with one of the big data houses, which will allow the firm to use overlays to get more information about Gamesville members for advertisers.


Gamesville also offers advertisers online event sponsorships and banner advertising. Advertisers on Gamesville include free e-mail service Hotmail, online bookseller Amazon.com, publisher Ziff-Davis, cataloger Land's End, and others.
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