Europe waits on electronic ads boom

MUNICH, Germany—With an eye toward the Internet revolution in the United States, European online services and other companies are gearing up in hopes of sparking a boom in electronic advertising during the next two to three years.

America Online Inc., aiming to jump ahead of competitors on the continent, is about to expand its ad programs into France following launches in Germany and Britain. Other companies are preparing the technology and measuring standards required to lure some of the world's advertising heavyweights.

Europe's online advertising "is in the early stages and the picture is mixed so far, but I can't think of any big advertiser who is not thinking about it," said Wilfred Zorge, managing director of AdOn, based in Hamburg, Germany, an online-advertising sales house set up by AOL and German media-giant Bertelsmann AG.

Gene DeRose, president of online market-researcher Jupiter Communications in New York, said the prospects for growth were strong, even though many countries outside the United States still have to overcome high telecommunications costs, low incomes and slack consumer interest in the Internet.

"The most promising markets will grow substantially," DeRose said.

To broaden its foundation in Europe, AOL this month plans to roll out a formal program for running ads on its service in France. As it does in Germany and Britain, AOL France will offer banners on the opening pages for sports, computing, shopping, news and other topics, with the cost based on the number of hits on the pages containing the banners.

The company expects to lure major advertisers like Microsoft Corp., IBM, Canon Inc. and Perrier