ePilot Pays Users for Clicks to Advertisers

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ePilot, a desktop portal that pays users to click through to advertisers' sites, is the most recent to join the legion of downloadable advertiser-driven tool bar offerings. At least one analyst is predicting that despite a successful beta test, this type of ad revenue model may crash and burn.

ePilot, which launched Dec. 7, is a downloadable application that sits next to the start button on a user's tool bar. The portal functions much like the start button, using a series of cascading menu categories.

Advertisers bid for placement in each category where there are nine menu options. Categories include shopping and news. The highest bidder receives the first menu option.

Using a revenue-sharing model that operates on a sliding scale, consumers are rewarded with cash for clicking through to advertisers' sites. Consumers also are rewarded for referring ePilot to a friend.

Active users can earn an average of $70 a month, according to Heath Clarke, president of eLiberation, the parent company of ePilot in Irvine, CA. "We're sharing our revenues. We're splitting it with the consumer," he said.

ePilot is anticipating a rate of 5,000 downloads per day by month's end.

Despite the cash incentive, consumers aren't likely to rush to download this application, according to Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA. "That model sounds like a complete loser. People don't want to clutter up their tool bar and have their other applications crowded out," he said.

Current competitors include AllAdvantage.com, which pays users to install a 1-inch tool bar on the bottom of their screens; Web3000.com, which offers a browser accelerator for those who download their ad portal onto their tool bar; and NetSanity which will launch a content-driven tool bar product next month.

"Tool bars are taking over the bottom layer of the page, we've looked at a lot of them," said Clarke. "Many take up too much screen space, are too hard to learn how to use and take up too much processor speed. Ours is the same size as the start button, takes [very little to process] and has a cascading menu system that 7 year olds know how to use."

A dilemma regarding many pay-per-performance offerings is the amount of unqualified leads produced, according to Nail. "What kind of quality of user are you getting if the people are there for the money?" he said. "Advertisers are getting over the traffic idea and they're saying, 'What I really want are the most interested, qualified people to buy my product - not just a mass of people.' "

ePilot had a smooth takeoff during its eight-week beta test of 26,000 users. The first listing in each category saw click-through rates as high as 30 percent. The eight other menu options that round out each category had a 20 percent click-through rate.

By month's end, ePilot banner ads will be placed on sites such as Cnet and ZDNet. Net Traffic Inc. will be serving the ads. The company is currently looking for a celebrity spokesperson to appear in its offline advertising campaigns.

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