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AltaVista plans huge ad blitz, relaunch

CMGI plans to spend more than $100 million on a campaign trumpeting major changes aimed at transforming its AltaVista Web search directory into a top-tier portal player, sources say.

Internet investment firm CMGI plans to spend more than $100 million on a 12-month advertising campaign that trumpets major changes aimed at transforming its AltaVista Web directory into a top-tier portal player, sources say.

AltaVista is redesigning the look and feel of its Web site as part of the relaunch, according to people familiar with the plans, and is even working on a new logo and slogan. The site will add local guides powered by Zip2, which CMGI acquired this year, as well as a commerce section featuring, a news section called AltaVista Live, and a new search page.

The company expects to launch the new site this month at a gala event in New York, CNET has learned. Sources said the overall marketing drive could cost as much as $120 million, though a representative for the company said that figure was "exaggerated."

"Get ready for the TOTALLY NEW AltaVista--dynamic new media offerings, unmatched new commerce offerings and our legendary AltaVista Search with industry-leading relevance and a far more powerful interface," read an electronic version of an invitation to the gala party, which carried AltaVista chief executive Rod Schrock's tagline.

A member of the ad team working on the campaign confirmed that the event is planned for October 25, as stated in the invitation.

AltaVista is counting on its advertising blitz to regain ground lost to leading portal Yahoo. But the cost of competition through marketing is reaching unprecedented levels as Internet companies mature and amass enough capital to launch major branding campaigns.

TD Waterhouse and CNET, publisher of, each announced $100 million, 12-month advertising campaigns this year--a figure that dwarfs the marketing budgets of even the most aggressive Fortune-500 companies.

In addition to taking on Yahoo, CMGI wants to take advantage of AltaVista's service--which ranks in the top ten, according to Web metric firm Media Metrix--to direct traffic to its network of Web businesses.

CMGI's strategy has long rested on investing in prominent Web companies, building them up, and taking them public. Notable successes include early stakes in Lycos and GeoCities.

AltaVista's new campaign will flood the airwaves throughout the next 12 months in the United States and abroad and will make use of outdoor advertising as well as television and radio spots. CMGI will spend an estimated $20 million in international advertising and marketing, sources added.

Proposed AltaVista logo design A number of ideas are being considered for a new AltaVista logo, sources say, including one slogan that reads, "altavista: smart is beautiful."

The company would not confirm whether the logo or the slogan is among those under active consideration.

"We are in the developmental stage right now," an AltaVista representative said, adding that the company has not released any designs, and called the logo as "premature."

AltaVista's current logo includes snow-capped mountain and the slogan, "The most powerful and useful guide to the Net."

AltaVista recently hired advertising firm Wieden & Kennedy as its agency of record. The firm previously worked on campaigns for Nike, Coca-Cola, and ESPN.

Off and running
The relaunch comes just two months after CMGI closed its deal to acquire AltaVista from Compaq Computer for $2.3 billion in stock. CMGI announced recently that it plans to take AltaVista public in January.

Since its AltaVista acquisition, CMGI has gone on a buying spree. In the last month alone, the company spent $500 million in stock for Web ad service AdForce, an undisclosed sum for free ISP, and $690 million in stock for Flycast Communications, another Web ad agency.

The company also runs a successful venture capital arm called @Ventures, which invests in start-up Web companies. Based in Menlo Park, California, this division has a stake in close to 40 different companies. These affiliates are diverse, from stock site Raging Bull to reverse auction site and Web advertising network

Earlier this year, CMGI was reportedly in talks to acquire Web portal Lycos, of which it owns an 18 percent stake. CMGI chief executive David Wetherell was formerly a member of Lycos's board of directors.

But Wetherell resigned in protest of Lycos's planned merger with Barry Diller's USA Networks. The deal eventually dissolved because of lack of shareholder support.

This week CMGI announced a number of new deals and initiatives to boost its business. Yesterday, the company said its plans to start a technology consulting division that will resell services from its affiliates, Bloomberg reported, adding that CMGI will eventually take the venture public.

CMGI yesterday also unveiled, a service that allows users to personalize preferences on their home pages.