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MarketWatch toasts happy hour with Bud

A new deal between the financial information Web site and the brewer underscores the promise and peril of online advertising at a critical time in its history.

A new deal struck between CBS MarketWatch and Budweiser underscores both the promise and peril of online advertising at a critical time in its history.

The financial news site is giving Budweiser the best kind of placement there is on the Web: Space that spans the entire page. On Tuesday, it started delivering Web pages that show Budweiser's signature red logos--about an inch thick, with the tagline "King of Beers"--as background, or "wallpaper," as the unit is known online.

The strategy is part of a larger brand campaign for Budweiser at the MarketWatch site, which offers stock quotes, financial news and commentary about the stock market.

"This is just another example of what a lot of publishers are doing to find new ways to make money from traditional advertisers," said Marissa Gluck, advertising analyst at Jupiter Research.

The move puts an exclamation point on recent efforts by online publishers to lure traditional advertisers online. CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, is running larger interactive ads in the middle of its pages. Disney Online is selling what it calls a "big impression" ad that also gives advertisers more real estate. And the Internet Advertising Bureau recently sanctioned such larger ads by creating standards for them.

Such efforts are meant to improve the image of online advertising by making it more appealing for brand advertisers--no longer just a means for direct marketing in which consumers "click" directly to a product or site through banner ads. As click-through rates have dropped for banner-ad spots, the medium's value has been called into question. Traditional advertisers, comfortable with TV and radio advertising, also have been hesitant about advertising online because of the Web's limitations on size and the ability to communicate a message the way television can.

Consumer coup
Through Tuesday's deal, MarketWatch hit the mother lode of traditional advertisers in Budweiser, owned by Anheuser-Busch and the source of such cult-like advertising as the "Wassup" beer campaign. Budweiser is one of the first traditional advertisers to embrace a highly targeted Web site as a medium to build its brand.

Running wallpaper-style ads isn't a sure bet, however. In 1996, a media company engineered a campaign for Disney that placed Dalmatians in the background of such portals as Excite.com and Yahoo to promote the entertainment company's "101 Dalmatians" movie.

"This was the first time a background was used as an ad unit, but it didn't really take off," Gluck said. "Right now, I doubt Yahoo would do it."

MarketWatch has sold its wallpaper ads before to the likes of Sun Microsystems and Saturn, although it's never sold to a traditional packaged-goods company.

"Getting Budweiser on is huge for us," said Larry Kramer, chief executive of MarketWatch. "This is the game. Getting consumer package-goods advertisers to the Web has been very hard; it's not been a part of their traditional buys.

"That's part of the whole problem of the Net: People weren't focused on branding, but on direct marketing. But branding is critical for the success of the Web. For us to make it, we have to do brand advertising," said Kramer, who said that Budweiser is one of its largest non-brokerage service advertisers.

Kramer would not disclose the terms of the ad campaign, which will run through the end of the year, but said it could reach in the seven figures.

The drinking hour
The company sold Budweiser an ad campaign based on several facets, including wallpaper. The chief part, however, is based on ads appearing during a certain time and day. Budweiser will be featured on the MarketWatch site during "happy hour" around the country on Fridays for the rest of the year, appealing to the site's "mainly male, high income" demographic that is primed for a beer after work at the end of the week, according to Kramer.

The ad is in two parts: One is a banner at the top right of the page depicting a beer being poured. The second is a "skyscraper," or lengthwise ad, at the right side of the page, showing a tall Budweiser glass being filled.

"We're now going after, one by one, people like Budweiser that have a major brand that can target consumers at the right time of the day," Kramer said.

The wallpaper facet places Budweiser logos in the background of "data driven" pages such as its quote page. But some Web visitors have complained about the intrusive style of the wallpaper ads, Kramer said.

"It's a little overwhelming because they're showing up on all the pages. We're obviously going to adjust that," he said. "The problem is that it's the first day of this particular (campaign); it should probably be a little lighter. We'll tone it down a little."

Budweiser could not be reached for comment.

Jupiter's Gluck expressed doubts about the widespread adoption of the wallpaper ad.

"It's going to get them some initial press, but until they can qualify those initial impressions, many advertisers won't think it's worth it," she said.