Online marketing has prompted more than 13 million people to open credit card accounts since 1996, four million last year alone, according to surveys by Brittain Associates Inc., an Atlanta market research firm.

The most recent survey, which covered accounts opened in 2000, was done by random-number dialing to 2,004 households, and Brittain extrapolated national numbers from the results. The surveyers interviewed only adults who identified themselves as the head of the household. "We didn't want to talk to students who live at home," said Bruce Brittain, president.

For a while, banner ads and other Internet marketing techniques were out of favor with credit card issuers, who had spent a lot on them with little return. But according to Mr. Brittain, the situation is altering, partly because more people are using the Internet and using it more often, and card companies have learned how to approach online marketing.

Mr. Brittain named NextCard Inc., the First USA division of Bank One Corp., Providian Financial Corp., Citigroup Inc., Capital One Financial Corp., and the Discover unit of Morgan Stanley & Co. as card companies that have grown adept at Internet marketing.

"If you want an example of how an Internet marketer can turn nearly 88 million browsers into prospects, take a look at NextCard," Mr. Brittain said. The San Francisco company takes applications only through the Internet.

"They have a cutting-edge way of testing their banner ads to see which are pulling in response," Mr. Brittain said. "They get them in front of the right people."

David Dowhan, vice president of acquisitions at NextCard, said his company's growing expertise with Internet marketing is reflected in its account sign-ups: fourth-quarter Internet acquisitions up 220% from the year earlier. At the end of 2000, NextCard had 708,000 accounts.

"Our Internet database marketing system allows us to track every single Web site and which advertisements we run as well," Mr. Dowhan said, "and tie it back to the profitability of the customer that came in as a result of a marketing campaign. We have studied the online application process to streamline it."

Mr. Brittain said that First USA scores consistently high in his company's online credit card studies. "Last year they accounted for 21% of brand mentions," he said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.