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Drawn-Out Web Site Intros the Latest Advertising Gimmick

From the silliness of "Ho, ho, ho, Green Giant'' to the sophistication of "I'd like to buy the world a Coke,'' it seemed that everyone who grew up before the World Wide Web associated companies with their jingles.

Online ads have yet to sink into our collective consciousness in quite the same way, but that hasn't stopped Web designers from trying. The latest rage is the animated Web site introductions on corporate home pages and entertainment sites.

Typically up to 30 seconds long, the online commercials pop up when you type an address into your browser. Many simply feature giant words, usually the company's name in splashy colors flying across the computer screen. The site for Saga Software Inc. (www.sagasoftware.com) for instance, makes visitors stare at such words as "e-nabled,'' "e-business'' and "e-conomy'' before being allowed to go to the main page.

Some online cruisers consider the intros annoying, particularly when it's unclear how to skip the advertisements. But more companies are investing significant money and time in more-elaborate shows that they believe are key to making their brands recognizable.

Headstrong, (www.headstrong.com) which builds Web sites and other computer systems, spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars compiling a segment showing the silhouettes of three people whose heads are composed of computer monitors. To James Bond-esque music, the figures pose like runway models in front of an aqua-blue background that is the jumping-off place for the rest of the Web site.

"We had high hopes, but we have been absolutely blown away by the reaction,'' said Headstrong's creative director, Kevin Murphy. Since the site went up Sept. 13, the company has received several dozen e-mail messages a day from potential customers, recruits and others praising the design.

"The site is an essential part of the story we are telling, and that is `We can get things done,' '' Murphy said.

The problem, said Internet marketing strategist Frank Catalano, is that such snippets can frustrate those who just want to get in and out of the site quickly.

"It's a great way for an advertiser to get an audience, but for a consumer it's just an irritant,'' Catalano said, like "forcing someone to Super Glue their head to the TV screen so they can't look away during commercials.''

Catalano, author of "Internet Marketing for Dummies,'' predicts that eventually either consumers will rebel or the sites will figure out how to create more-enticing advertisements.

The Headstrong intro, like nearly all others, was built using the popular Flash and Shockwave software packages developed by San Francisco's Macromedia Inc., one of the few Internet firms that has managed to withstand the dot-com shakeout with strong stock prices. While television quality and lengthy animation are out of the question because of the sluggish transmission rates of many modems, Macromedia tools enable site designers to embed short animation and videos in their work.

Macromedia's Shockwave.com site provides a glimpse into the future of the convergence of television and the Web. Visitors can put together jigsaw puzzles of a mountain lake, sing along with a photo- and-cartoon video made for Madonna's new single "Music,'' or watch brief "Webisodes'' of the cartoon series "South Park.'' Originally created as a showroom for the software's creations, the site's animated segments have become so popular that Shockwave.com is now the most popular entertainment site on the Internet and the only one to make PC Data's Top 100 list for home users.


Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle. November 6, 2000

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