Times Square Billboard Proves
Priceless for GiftCertificates.com

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While other Internet companies blow their marketing budgets on overpriced ad buys like 30 seconds in the biggest football game of the year, GiftCertificates.com believes it gained Super Bowl-type exposure with one six-figure billboard buy.

The start-up, which sells gift certificates for online and offline companies, in October signed a long-term, $100,000-per-month contract for a billboard in New York's Times Square just in time for the year 2000 New Year's celebration that drew record worldwide media coverage and went off without incident.

More than 500,000 people attend the Times Square New Year's celebration annually, while an estimated 2 million packed the area for this year's event. The worldwide television audience was more than 1 billion viewers, event organizers estimate.

"We were on literally countless times," said Jonas Lee, CEO at New York-based GiftCertificates.com. "And, just as importantly, it was done at a time when people's minds were open to being happy. There was a good affiliation between the millennium and us. It could have gone the other way if there was some sort of year-2000 problem."

While GiftCertificates.com's holiday marketing strategy called for spending more than $12 million, a big-ticket buy like the Super Bowl was not part of the plan.

"In a Super Bowl buy, at least half the people are likely to be unhappy," said Lee. "There's also a lot of clutter there and it's a risky buy." As for Times Square's world-renown advertising clutter, Lee said, "It's a fun clutter. People are there because of the clutter."

The Times Square buy was part of a marketing strategy aimed at getting exposure at a time when Internet companies flush with venture capital flooded the airwaves with billions of dollars worth of practically indistinguishable holiday advertising.

GiftCertificates.com also contracted 14 billboard trucks at a cost of $15,000 to $30,000 per month to drive around in five cities including high-tech centers Washington, DC, and San Francisco.

Lee said he bought the Times Square billboard because of his familiarity with the spot.

"Billboards are typically a boss buy," said Lee. "You buy billboards on the boss's commute home, because that's what he sees and that's what he's familiar with."

Meanwhile, the billboard still gets worldwide television exposure because its located outside the windows of MTV's New York studios and can often be seen in show backgrounds, said Lee.

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