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Covad hopes offbeat ads will raise visibility

The company unveils a creative, if kooky, new advertising campaign that includes microscopic photos of the human digestive system.

Intestines sell.

At least that's what Covad Communications, a digital subscriber line (DSL) provider, hopes, given its use of microscopic photos of the human digestive system to sell high-speed Internet access.

The company has unveiled a creative, if kooky, new advertising campaign, with an estimated cost of about $20 million to $30 million. Covad typically spends about $40 million annually on advertising.

The campaign appears to take a page from the dot-com playbook, in which wacky humor and images can help consumers identify with and remember a Web site address they may not have heard of before. For example, software retailer Beyond.com ran a series of ads with a naked man who worked from home ordering software online.

But Covad's irreverent approach is relatively unique in the communications business, a signal that the company wants to raise its profile at all costs amid a glut of companies focusing on DSL connections.

Other communications companies also are flooding the airwaves as they scramble to sign up customers for new Internet services. Verizon Communications, created by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, for example, is running an omnipresent campaign to alert consumers to its new name. Likewise, AT&T today will launch a new $50-million branding effort. Both many of those, however, rely on relatively mainstream themes.

The broadband stakes are high, with many analysts and companies expecting higher profit margins for the high-speed services. At an average price of about $40 per month, broadband services generate more revenue than dial-up Internet access and many other communications services.

Dozens of high-speed Internet access providers, particularly DSL and cable modem companies, are battling over largely the same customer base. As a result, the advertising wars have begun to escalate. Many providers are beginning to invest heavily in television commercials, radio ads and other expensive means of promotion. But the crowded airwaves have made being noticed more difficult than ever.

Intestinal surgery, hamster taxidermy
Created by San Francisco-based ad agency Young & Rubicam, the Covad campaign--with the tagline "DSL is in our DNA"--includes TV, radio and print advertisements. Two 30-second TV spots began running Sunday during the Emmy Award broadcasts in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But Covad's print ads, which will be seen in several consumer and business publications, may attract the most attention for their offbeat messages.

The print ads are intended to inform consumers that a high-speed Covad DSL connection can help them access--and depart from--even the most bizarre Web sites faster than ever before. Each ad will include a URL link to a Web site with more information, including "www.live-intestinal-surgery.com" and "www.hamster-taxidermy.com," which is not yet live.

The intestinal surgery Web site shows a photo of the internal view of an intestine in all its pink and slimy splendor. Clicking on the image elicits gurgling liquid noises.

The intended message, aimed at small and midsized businesses and consumers, is that Covad DSL connections help customers quickly access the information they want, whether it is scientific statistics for a major research project or a graphics-heavy image from a wayward Web site.

"We feel that many high-tech companies tout their technology and features, which doesn't resonate with broader audiences," said Dustin Grosse, senior director of brand marketing at Covad. "We've tried to be less sophisticated with our message with funny, irreverent humor, which makes us more human and approachable," Grosse said. Everyone is being so aggressive with media messages today that it's tough to break through that clutter. We've chosen to be aggressive and fun."