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US Report: Netscape's $30M portal push

Netscape Communications Corp. is unveiling its portal site, Netcenter, to the public in a new publicity blitz the company is expected to announce today.
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor on

Netscape said it plans to spend over $30m (£18m) on the campaign, which will appeal to edgy, techno-sophisticate types. Some print publications are already carrying the ads, and the campaign will soon include radio, television, billboards and the Internet.

The campaign is Netscape's first foray into consumer advertising in traditional media, and the latest manoeuvre to build up the popularity of Netcenter. The site faces stiff competition from such established portals as Yahoo!, Excite, MSN.com and Lycos, as well as new challengers such as Go Network (from Walt Disney Co. and Infoseek) and Snap.com (from NBC and CNet.)

Many experts believe portals, the all-in-one Web sites that reach the majority of Internet users, will be the television networks of the Internet, with vast audience reach and advertising power. Reflecting those expectations, portal companies' stock prices are some of the highest on Wall Street.

But instead of going after the novice users that usually flock to portal sites, Netscape plans to attract audiences already familiar with the Web. "Netscape ... really appeals to the more Internet-savvy, educated, affluent Web user," said Jeff Whipps, Netscape group manager for advertising and direct marketing. "The campaign is really about formalising that position, and going after that audience."

Whipps said the ads will show up in publications and programming that fits the Web-elite demographic -- including Wired Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, X-Files and The Practice. Whatever they think of its portal site, industry experts generally concur that Netscape attracts more advanced users than the usual portal because of its Internet software operations. "Netscape has early-adopters as its users, so that advertising strategy makes sense -- they're more the Wired audience than the mass consumers," said Patrick Keane, analyst with Jupiter Communications. "It's absolutely critical for large uber-portals to be far more aggressive in mass consumer marketing ... if they're trying to build a consumer audience."

Netscape first moved into the consumer-media arena with its summer revamp of Netcenter. The move was successful enough to get the attention of consumer online service America Online Inc., which recently agreed to purchase Netscape, largely to acquire the browser and the portal.

However, Netscape said the company was working on Netcenter's advertising campaign when the AOL deal was still a glimmer in Steve Case's eye. The print ads will begin in the January issues of magazines, some of which have already been shipped, with radio ads commencing on Jan. 4 and television ads on Jan. 11. The first wave of the campaign will carry on for three months, Whipps said.

Cable-TV ads will be aired nationally, supported by geographically targeted ads on network television in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta and Boston. The ads will portray Netcenter features such as automatic software updating, personalisation and Netscape-branded search as more advanced than the competition, and thus more appealing to users in the know. The campaign was created by Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, the agency which handles footwear advertising for Rockport, as well as more high-tech companies such as community site theglobe.com and Music Boulevard, an Internet music store.

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