If we offer incentives, they will come.
That is the hope reflected in advertising and promotion strategies of companies that are trying to do business on the Internet.
Merchants are digging into their bags of marketing tricks, using bonus rewards like frequent-flier miles to convince Web browsers to spend time in their virtual stores.
For most of the three years since the Web phenomenon began to explode, the prevailing advertising approach was "the banner," a posting on the computer screen akin to a print ad. As on-line business sites and users became more sophisticated, and with the advent of programming technology like Java that made action and animation more feasible, the advertising became more dynamic and interactive.
But the Internet audience has always been inclined to ignore even the most inviting of banner ads. Several companies have responded by offering prizes and rewards for clicking on banners and visiting the advertised sites.
"Promotional ads are getting attention because (they) make things stand out," said Marc Johnson, on-line advertising analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York. "Anything that can build traffic can carve out a place."
CyberGold Inc. made the reward idea literal. The two-year-old Berkeley, Calif., company was among the first to offer cash-from 50 cents to $10-for clicking through to an advertiser. CyberGold launched its "pay-for- performance" Web marketing service in April. Internet surfers can have their money transferred to bank or Visa card accounts, spend it on-line, or donate it to charities.
Thirty-three companies have made CyberGold a part of their Web advertising, said Nat Goldhaber, the company's chief executive officer. People can earn rewards by signing up for services, filling out forms, or playing games. For instance, signing up for AT&T's Worldnet Internet service earns $10. "If you pay attention to something, it is appropriate that you should be compensated with real cash," Mr. Goldhaber said.
Netcentives Inc. of San Francisco offers what it calls ClickRewards, such as frequent-flier miles, rental car discounts, and music to attract people to participating merchants' Web sites. Broderbund Software Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. are among the organizations that have joined Netcentives' program.
By offering ClickRewards in addition to its on-line services, Wells Fargo hopes to distinguish itself from its competitors.
"It will make our customers like banking with Wells Fargo more, and as a result we should generate additional business," said Susan Weinstein, a vice president at the bank.
Some virtual mall proprietors offer incentives for desired shopping behavior. Studio City, Calif.-based iMall Inc. is launching a program that will reward people for buying goods from some of the 1,600 merchants on its site. Points can be redeemed for merchandise and prizes.
Because standard, static advertising has been slow to bring in business, said Mr. Johnson of Jupiter Communications, Web advertisers are starting to apply off-line promotional techniques to the Internet. The advertising industry spends $130 billion annually on traditional promotions, he said.
But in the still-forming world of Internet commerce, even Web-based incentives are no sure thing. "The incentives really have to be compelling for someone to sign on," said Mr. Johnson.