When Excite executive Joe Kraus saw a familiar-looking billboard teasing another company's new online service, he couldn't decide if he was tickled or perturbed.
Also red, black, and white with a prominent "X" in the middle, the IDG ad pokes fun at Excite and other search engines or Net directories, asking: "Are you Exhausted?" But the tag line is the real meat of the cleverly placed ad, which hints at a new service the high-tech media company is releasing later this summer.
Although IDG is keeping a tight lid on the project, the result will be a "technology information" Web site that will make searching the Net for "information on computing" easier, a spokeswoman said today.
Excite isn't worried about competing with the new Web site; rather, it wants to protect the trademark power it harnessed with the popular ad campaign. The company reports double-digit increases in brand awareness after the Hendrix-laced commercials and billboards were launched during its past two quarters.
"In a way, it's continued free advertising, and in some ways it's flattering to be imitated. But we're also looking at it from a legal perspective," said Kraus, who is senior vice president of business development for Excite.
IDG decided on the billboard's theme after it got a hold of Excite's old spot.
"We though it was the perfect opportunity to take Excite's billboard and do a spoof on it," said Kathy Day spokeswoman for IDG.
Excite may be the catalyst, but it is not the competition, she added. "The online service we're unveiling this summer will go toe to toe with other Web sites that offer technology content."
IDG, which owns a minority stake in Excite, is unshaken by threats of a trademark lawsuit over the witty billboard. But according to federal trademark law, the company could soon be asking "Are we in trouble?"
Under the Trademark Act of 1946, Excite could sue IDG on grounds of false advertising, said Lance Rose, an attorney who specializes on Internet issues.
"The law applies to false statements about products or false implications about products," he said. "Excite's case looks pretty good because the graphic layout looks the same.
"In this case, consumers might be confused to think IDG services come from the people who brought them Excite's 'Are You Experienced?' campaign. Or people could get confused between their services."