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Big Blue backs SET with TV ads

IBM launches a consumer-oriented TV ad campaign to promote shopping over the Internet.

IBM (IBM) has launched a consumer-oriented TV ad campaign to promote shopping over the Internet.

The ads, running on telecasts of the NBA pro basketball playoff games and on Net-savvy shows such as Fox's X-Files and Sliders, are designed to convince consumers that making credit card purchases over the Net is now safe.

Big Blue, which is pushing the new Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol worldwide, hopes those consumers will pressure their banks about Internet purchases, thus creating opportunities to sell IBM's bank and merchant e-commerce software.

The campaign reflects the eagerness of IBM, other technology vendors, and credit card companies Visa International and MasterCard International to populate Web shopping malls with eager buyers. Today Hewlett-Packard (HWP), Microsoft (MSFT), and VeriFone (VFI) announced their own joint effort to sell SET software to merchants and banks around the world.

"We don't view this as too early," said Scott Duweke, marketing manager for IBM's electronic payments unit. "People have the mindset that the Internet is not safe for credit card purchases, and we have to start to erode that."

IBM hopes Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, which also endorses SET, will put even bigger ad dollars behind SET once version 1.0 of the protocol is published May 31.

"This [Internet credit card purchases] is going to be consumer-driven. That will be the factor to get the banks to offer it," added Duweke, who thinks banks will embrace SET for fear that if they don't, non-bank competitors will jump in and steal their customers.

Two separate IBM ads are running both in the United States and overseas. No full-fledged SET trials are up and running in the United States, but IBM is involved in nascent pilots in Denmark, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, France, and Japan, where Fuji Bank and Big Blue will extend the SET protocol for debit card payments over the Net.

The first version of SET covers only credit cards, but its backers plan to adapt the protocol to cover secure debit card, electronic cash, and smart-card payments over the Net. A European SET trial involves using the SET protocol for smart cards, plastic cards the size of credit cards with a chip embedded to store e-cash.

IBM admits that its four SET trials underway are little more than demonstrations so far. Supporters contend SET will make sending credit card numbers over the Internet even safer than handing a plastic card to a waiter, because the standard eliminates merchant fraud by blocking the merchant and its employees from ever seeing the credit card number.

IBM's SET ads began running Friday on TV networks, but IBM officials would not disclose the campaign's budget. The commercials also will air on cable channels CNN, HLN, Discovery, CNBC, History, TLC, and A&E.