BigHourglass Ties Incentives to Toolbar Usage

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BigHourglass.com is expected to launch its "Hourbar" downloadable toolbar as early as next month. While toolbars that serve banner advertisements to consumers as they surf are commonplace, the company believes its differentiation -- hourly prizes -- is the winning component that others are missing.


Taking a page from the iWon.com book, users earn entries into hourly and monthly prize drawings -- one entry for every five minutes the toolbar is active on their desktop. They can win cash, prizes and scholarships.


MValue.com, AllAdvantage.com and at least a dozen other companies offer various toolbar models. However, they all have the same goal in mind -- to get consumers to look at banner ads.


"The majority of online dollars are spent on banner ads at various Web sites. However, they continue to be ignored," said Craig Coletta, CEO of BigHourglass.com, Jersey City, NJ. "The problem is, they attempt to interrupt the user who's looking for information. In order to be effective, marketers need to gain the attention of the user. Without that they can't effectively reach users with their messages."


Coletta believes the Hourbar will draw a "captive and attentive audience resulting in higher click-through rates."


Since the toolbar space has a number of players with few real success stories, Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, is suspicious of any new entrants. "I've seen so many of them, and few really gained any traction.


"I suspect that [Hourbar] will appeal to that highly promotion-sensitive segment of the population that is looking to win. I'm just skeptical about the quality of the communication that the advertiser gets out of it if the only reason they're looking at the surf bar is to see if they won. You get quantity, but not quality. Sure, you can probably get tons of people to sit and watch it, but are they people you really want to get your advertising to?"


To ensure quality, the Hourbar collects click-stream data about the consumer to serve targeted ads. "We serve highly targeted, relevant ads based on the consumer's serving behavior," Coletta said. The Hourbar serves new ads every 20 seconds.


Toolbars succeed where Web pages fail, said Alex Gourevitch, spokesman at AllAdvantage.com, Hayward, CA. "There are quite a few. They're so diverse," he said. "One company does download software assistance, another is a free [Internet service provider] window ... the thing they all have in common is that they're persistent. You can guarantee permanent access to users. The Web page stands around waiting for someone to come to your site."


AllAdvantage considers itself an infomediary company that rewards consumers for their online data. Its "Viewbar" allows consumers to earn money while surfing the Web.


Coletta hopes his offering is more attractive to the plugged-in population than the AllAdvantage model.


"When you look at the two companies, it's work vs. play," he said. "We've enhanced [the model] to make it more fun and exciting. Look at how many people enter online sweepstakes. It's a phenomenon. Winning prizes is a fixture of popular culture."


BigHourglass has been accepting registrations since the first of the month. At press time, 5,000 people had signed up to receive its toolbar. The site will embark on a $5 million to $7 million ad campaign this fall to spur registration.
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