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Portals, ISPs launch attack ads

Mudslinging in advertisements isn't just reserved for politics anymore--it's becoming a favorite pitch for some Internet companies.

Mudslinging in advertisements isn't just reserved for politics anymore--it's becoming a favored pitch for some Internet companies.

MyWay.com, an upstart Web portal, announced plans Tuesday to take aim at Internet stalwart Yahoo with cheeky ads forecasting that company's demise. The campaign, featuring the slogan "Yahoo is toast," will run online, in print and on the radio.

The campaign joins a growing number of pitches from Web companies that aim to turn the spotlight on a competitor's alleged shortcomings, rather than tout the companies' own merits. Last week, Internet service provider EarthLink starting running ads in newspapers that maligned America Online and asserted that its new policy against pop-up advertising is misleading consumers. NetZero also takes swipes at AOL in ads for its high-cost Internet service, asserting that it offers consumers better value.

The jeers from the underdog ISPs and Web portals come as the industry remains under pressure to increase revenue. The two top ISPs, MSN and AOL, in the last month launched new services with great fanfare, aimed at winning subscribers from each other. As Microsoft's MSN has set its sights on wooing AOL subscribers to its service, the company has also used more comparative statements in its advertising.

"Competitive advertising comes when nothing else works. Companies realize there might not be that much growth opportunity anymore and they turn on their brethren," said Michael Tchong, a longtime advertising industry watcher and editor of Iconocast.

"It's a sign of things getting hot under the collar and pressure on the bottom line."

For MyWay, which recently launched, the ads are meant draw attention to the new ad-free Web portal by highlighting Yahoo?s advertising policies, which MyWay claims are unfriendly to viewers. Part of the print campaign says, "MyWay.com, No ads, No Clutter, No Kidding."

MyWay plans to become profitable in its first month of operations from paid listings in its search results--one of the hottest areas in online advertising these days. The company offers search services in a deal with Google.

However, the company must draw enough Web surfers to click on the advertising search results in order to make money.

Bill Dougherty, co-CEO of MyWay.com, said the company is just having fun with the new campaign, which was inspired by the positive feedback from its customers.

"We're just trying to make things interesting on the Internet again," he said. "Obviously Yahoo is the largest portal out there?-but on any given day they have 35 to 40 promotional placements on their home page. Users are saying enough is enough."

The company is advertising in 38 radio markets across the country, on more than 200 Internet sites, excluding Yahoo, and in college newspapers. The ads will run until Dec. 5 and then start again in 2003.

The company is also hosting a section on its Web site centered on the ad campaign that allows people to talk about why they hate Yahoo.

Yahoo spokeswoman Diana Lee said that Yahoo?s more than 200 million monthly visitors come back because the site offers value.

"A simple ad-free site does not provide value to consumers? lives if it does not incorporate the leading technology, compelling products or an understanding of consumers that Yahoo has successfully built and grown over the last seven years," Lee said.

EarthLink's ads, which ran in The New York Times on Monday and in USA Today last week, were focused on diffusing some of the hype around AOL?s "no pop-up ads" promise. EarthLink, the No. 3 ISP, aimed to highlight that it had offered consumers a tool to block pop-up ads long before AOL made its move.

EarthLink spokeswoman Carla Shaw said that at the end of the day, AOL Time Warner will still accept and deliver ads on more than 100 Web sites that the company owns outside of the AOL service itself.

"You see it's a lot of smoke and mirrors when you look at what they are really doing. AOL will serve pop-up ads for their sister companies, and that's a lot of companies," Shaw said.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the company is still serving pop-ups for informational purposes but it is cutting off third-party ads on its site by the end of the year.

"We understand that it must be frustrating to have lost this wedge issue with Internet users," Graham said.