* Will it be the DoubleClick E-Mail Network?

While DoubleClick is known for banner advertising — those blinking strips across the tops and bottoms of Web pages that are reportedly drawing sub-0.5-percent response rates — all signs of its proposed acquisition of Abacus Direct are pointing to a serious e-mail undertaking.

“DoubleClick has taken a look at their advertiser list and understands that it's the direct marketers that will be generating ad revenue for them,” said Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president of list company Worldata's online media buying and placement firm WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL. “They still need a strong e-mail component, which they lack.”

Indeed, DoubleClick has reportedly been talking with a variety of e-mail service bureaus — the online version of lettershops — and at least one e-mail list firm in efforts to bring e-mail marketing capabilities inhouse. Lately, the talks have apparently increased in intensity.

“It's getting very serious,” said a high-level source at one e-mail firm who asked not to be identified.

And though Abacus' cataloger clients are looking for ways to drive traffic to their Web sites, “we found universally that banners didn't work for them,” said Tony White, founder of Abacus, Broomfield, CO.

However, while he confirmed e-mail is high on DoubleClick's priority list, White would not write banners off entirely. One major reason for their poor performance may be because of Internet marketers' lack of purchase-behavior information — something Abacus has in spades in its Alliance database, which contains information from more than 1,100 catalog titles.

“At the end of the day, what really indicates who somebody is and what they're interested in is where they've plunked their money down in the past,” he said. “You incorporate actual purchase information, and I bet you we can get those banners to work.”

Meanwhile, one e-mail product DoubleClick may offer marketers using the Abacus database, White said, will be to use shipping-verification e-mails to include impulse offers for products from other catalogers with clickable links to the other catalogers' sites.

“Because we already have the name and address, the order blank is already filled out. All they have to do is check [the] 'buy' [box],” he said. “Our [Alliance] participants are very excited about that.”

Abacus has about 6 million e-mail addresses in its database, though e-mail “has not been the focus,” he said.

White would not comment on any possible further acquisition plans by DoubleClick. “You'll have to talk to them,” he said. DoubleClick could not be reached for follow-up comments in time for deadline.

One company that comes up repeatedly in the DoubleClick acquisition rumors is e-mail list development and management firm NetCreations, New York.

“[DoubleClick is] talking to everybody, and NetCreations is on the short list,” said an industry source who asked to remain anonymous. “But that could change tomorrow.”

DoubleClick is eyeing e-mail customer retention services and acquisition programs, the source said. And since mass unsolicited marketing e-mail commonly known as spam will be taboo for the foreseeable future, it would make sense for DoubleClick to acquire at least one opt-in e-mail list company.

“In order to have an e-mail marketing program, you have to have lists to deliver to,” the source said. “Opt-in lists are hard to come by.”

Though NetCreations is small — a 19-person shop in the SoHo district of New York City representing 3 million unique e-mail addresses — its founder and president, Rosalind Resnick, is arguably the most vocal opponent of spam in the e-mail direct marketing industry.

When asked for comment, Resnick would neither confirm nor deny that talks between her firm and DoubleClick are taking place.

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