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Firm promises real-time banners

A division of advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi introduces technology that will let clients deliver up-to-date information via banner ads.

Banner ads are catching up with the rest of the Web.

Darwin Digital, a division of advertising powerhouse Saatchi & Saatchi, today announced the introduction of a Java-based product that will allow its client, Time New Media, to deliver up-to-date information via banners.

Dubbed NOW, for "news on the Web," the technology lets advertisers update information on the banners immediately. This contrasts with a two-day to two-week wait that Time and Darwin Digital say is the current lag for updating banners.

"The job of people in the banner business is to maximize a very small piece of real estate," said Jupiter Communications online advertising analyst Evan Neufeld. "Technologically, there's nothing earth-shattering here--it's just push technology in a very small space. But it is innovative."

Advertisers have been experimenting with ways to make their ads pay off on the Net, including trying ads that pop up in new windows, ads that make sounds and have flashy pictures, and ads that momentarily take over the computer screen.

But they have found themselves caught between calling attention to their products and angering Netizens with ads that are too intrusive.

Real-time banner ads are less likely to meet with widespread opposition, however, because they are still contained in banners, which Netizens have accepted, for the most part.

The key to the new advertising technique, according to Darwin Digital chief technology officer Daniel Reznick, is that it allows the advertisers themselves to update the ads.

"This is the first service to really place the power to change real-time content and put it into the advertiser's hands," said Reznick. "Up until now, the whole process of buying media online has been a very offline process. Buying media space and placing the creative content has been slow and cumbersome."

But despite Darwin Digital's claim of being first, other ad vendors, such as headline aggregator 7am.com, also offer banner ad solutions that incorporate ticker feeds with news headlines. Online ad agency Digital Pulp also provides its clients with the ability to alter ads on their own.

As a news organization, Time New Media has an obvious interest in the technology, which can turn its banner ads into conduits for story headlines. But Darwin Digital also sees uses for the technology for non-news organizations, such as the announcement of time-limited product promotions or the reporting of financial data or sports scores.

Reznick predicted that the NOW ads would improve the notoriously low click-through rates that have plagued banner ads since their introduction. He also said that although the ads would cost more at the outset, they ultimately would prove cost-effective because advertisers would not have to return as frequently to the ad agency to refresh them.

The ads launched today on Yahoo, Lycos, and Time New Media.

Darwin Digital also announced that Hewlett-Packard is employing its interactive marketing tool on its palmtop PC page. Designed with Microsoft's Agent technology, the tool features an interactive character named "Merlin" that speaks and responds to users, guiding them through the site. The Merlin tour is only accessible to Microsoft Internet Explorer users with Pentium-based PCs.