ORLANDO - Banks looking to offer their ATMs as advertising vehicles should hire ad brokers for the job, says a banker who learned the hard way.

John Nicholson, group marketing manager for Wells Fargo Bank, said Wells first put advertising experts on its payroll to sell ads.

"What we found out was we are a bank and not an advertising agency," he said last week at Thomson Financial's ATM 2000 conference.

Mr. Nicholson recommended that banks consider working with specialized brokers who make it their business to pair up advertisers with ATM owners.

He and other bankers and manufacturers who shared their war stories at the conference said that ATM advertising is catching on fast, but that ATM owners are still in a trial-and-error period.

Mr. Nicholson discussed some "popular misconceptions" about ATM advertising that Wells discovered during its early experiments.

One of these, he said, is that printed receipts are crucial to attracting interest among advertisers. Wells found that advertisers will buy screen-only spots, which are easier to implement and have a narrower marketing focus, Mr. Nicholson said.

About half of Wells' 6,300 ATMs have the technical capacity to run ads, Mr. Nicholson said. Some of these already do, he said, and the rest will soon. Many of Wells' current advertisers are Internet companies including eBay, Sparks.com, Citysearch.com, Food.com, and Savingumoney.com.

Mr. Nicholson recounted Wells' experiences trying to solicit advertisers. "What we had to do was overcome the skepticism of companies like AT&T," he said. "So we came up with an agreement where they paid us based on how many responses they received."

This, he said, "is not the best way to do ATM advertising," but was necessary, Wells felt, to win over major sponsors that were wary.

Other companies are experimenting with new types of machines.

Triton Systems Inc., an ATM manufacturer that specializes in supplying cash dispensers to retail stores, plans to test a model that has a separate video monitor above its transaction screen, said Ernest L. Burdette, Triton's president.

The additional monitor, he said, will play video segments such as commercials and headline news.

Mr. Burdette said the model will be installed in 200 to 300 stores by yearend, in a pilot that will run through the middle of next year. He said it should have significant appeal to advertisers because the ads appear above the ATM screens, so many people - not just those making transactions - can see them.

Mike Szimanski, vice president at Rbuzz, Inc., a multimedia advertising agency in Baltimore, said that the Triton Systems advertising model was the only one that made sense. Without the set-top boxes, he said, there would be little incentive for advertisers to focus on ATMs.

"Advertisers want a medium that has been proven to work," Mr. Szimanski said. While the Internet has set a good precedent for experimentation, he said, the best way to sell ATM advertising is to bundle it with more traditional methods, such as billboards.

Another hot topic at the ATM 2000 conference was the outlook for debit cards. Paul Tomasofsky, vice president of the advanced product group at NYCE Corp., rang the death knell of the credit card industry as he cited the rise of debit as a preferred payment method.

Plugging his company's new authentication software, SafeDebit, which facilitates Internet payments by debit card, Mr. Tomasofsky said debit card use will rise along with Internet use. He said 16% U.S. adults - 32 million of them - are Internet shoppers, and 2.4% of U.S. retail sales are Internet sales.

But Alanna Kellogg of the St. Louis consulting firm Kellogg Group was skeptical. "These guys - they're trying to use the debit infrastructure to take over business from the credit card industry. There's a big motivation for them" to make that kind of argument, she said.

And Kenneth Karant, manager of financial industry marketing at Diebold Inc., reminded the conference's participants that "cash remains king."

"E-commerce will have no substantial impact on cash withdrawal transactions through 2010," Mr. Karant said.

Ken Rees, executive vice president of Innoventry, a company founded by Wells and Cash America International Inc. that sells check-cashing machines and other products, said there is great opportunity in catering to people without bank accounts, whom he called "an actively abused customer segment."

Though these consumers bring billions of dollars to the financial services industry - through check cashing, money orders, wire transfers, and other services - they are "treated like criminals," Mr. Rees said. They are "forced to go to sketchy neighborhoods and get their money from someone behind a bulletproof glass who fingerprints them."

Mr. Rees warned, however, that there is a "long learning curve" for ATM companies that want to cater to this segment in a profitable way.

For example, he said, at one of his company's check-cashing machines, a customer licked a biometric camera that was supposed to be identifying him by a facial scan. The machine captured the incident on tape. "When you're in a self-service environment, weird stuff happens," Mr. Rees said.

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