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New Net ads make a noise

Web surfers used to cool, quiet Internet waters are in for a surprise this week from ads that not only blink and dance but also bang and yell at users.

Web surfers used to cool, quiet Internet waters are in for a surprise this week from ads that not only blink and dance for attention but also bang and yell at users.

That's right, talkies have come to the Web. AT&T this week launched a two-week ad campaign on about a half-dozen sites featuring a little girl who knocks on the door and pleads, "Hey, let me in." The ad is debuting on popular sites such as USA Today, Lycos, GeoCities, and CBS Sportsline.

Surfers are likely to hear it before seeing it. They can then click on the ad for more information, complete with sound generated by actors in a studio.

Sound is by no means new to the Net and it's not even new to Web advertising. But this may be the first time an advertiser has used it in a broad-based ad campaign. Other sound-based ads generally have required the user to download applications or players. The fact that this works across platforms without plug-ins makes it innovative, according to Allison Parker, cofounder of Narrative Communications, which developed the technology for these ads.

Other advertisers have generated interactive banners with Enliven, but AT&T's use of sound takes that process a step further. "This is the next big shoe to drop," Parker said. "The key here is you couldn't previously create any ad even comparable to this without a plug-in."

Whether these kinds of ads will prove popular remains to be seen. While banner ads load almost instantly, this 20K applet takes about 20 seconds to download via a 28.8-kbps connection. Then there's the intrusiveness of the ads themselves.

While Netizens are early adopters, they also are notoriously particular about what level of intrusiveness they'll accept--especially when they didn't ask for it and especially when it comes from advertisers.

Joshua Sacks, account director for Modem Media, which developed the ad for AT&T, said he is aware of the potential pitfalls of Web advertising but hopes that the benefits will outweigh them. "We are constantly searching for new ways for our clients to take advantage of the medium."

Sacks added Modem Media was aiming to bring the characters developed in AT&T's television commercials to the Web. "We're really trying to press the envelope."