High-Tech HYPE 'Hypermedia presentations' are the new frontier for ads

August 09, 1993|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,Staff Writer

An ad for Buick's new line of cars arrives in the mail -- on a 3 1/2 -inch diskette. Pop it into the computer, and a dazzling show that incorporates music, animation, photos, graphics and text appears. You can ask it questions, find out more about new-car options and financing. It even includes a trivia game. Spin the wheel and answer questions about American inventions and Buick history.

It was bound to happen, of course. If media push into a new frontier, advertisers are waiting there in the welcome wagon.

After invading our lives through TV, radio, print, video and movies, advertising now is insinuating itself into high-tech territory. And the new ad purveyors are doing as the Romans do in this case: These high-tech come-ons are interactive and allow the user to control the information flow, from none -- you don't have to put the disk in the computer at all -- to encyclopedic -- users can access more information than they could possibly want to know about a product.

They're called "hypermedia presentations," or "multimedia presentations," because they incorporate different mediums -- text, graphics, sound, video and animation. Each ad is a mini-production in itself. (The prefix "hyper" is derived from the computer program Hypercard, an interactive program for the Macintosh computer used to manage information. It's one of the programs used to create these hyperads.)

Hypermedia is designed to be a nonlinear composition -- meaning the user doesn't have to start at point A and progress to point B to point C. Viewers can journey from point A to C to B and back to A or anywhere else in the program.

An early form of multimedia would be kiosks in airport and bus terminals. Walk up to a screen and choose whether you want information about incoming or outgoing flights, the weather in the city you're in or going to be in, or where you can find a hotel nearby.

"I think we are certainly going to see more multimedia advertising," says Dr. Jay David Bolter, a professor in the school of literature and communication at Georgia Institute of Technology and co-developer of Storyspace, a hypertext writing program.

"The benefit for advertising is the 'wow' factor," continues Dr. Bolter.

The " 'wow' factor" seems to be working.

"Right now, it's so novel that people will actually load up advertising onto their computers," says Dr. Stephanie Gibson, an assistant professor in the department of English, communications and design at the University of Baltimore who teaches a class in hypermedia. "They're sending away for this stuff."

Bob Tarr, a 30-year-old resident of Canton, viewed the Buick ad. "Instead of reading the information, the ad lets you see how the product works. They're easy to use. It prompts you through the program."

And his final analysis? "It's a lot of fun."

Software and computer companies are one of the largest users of hypermedia advertising. Open any computer magazine and you'll see a half-dozen or so ads for computer and software-reated products that encourage readers to "send away for a free disk." LINK Resources Corp., a New York market-research firm, notes that in 1992, 27.6 percent of all U.S. households had personal computers.

Gordon Ritter, co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing for Tribe Computer Works, a computer company based in Emeryville, Calif., uses several hypermedia presentations for advertising. "The ad shows visually how the product works. We've found it to be a tremendous success," he says.

Boon for small companies

Mr. Ritter says that Tribe is a small company with 25 employees and the hyperad can compensate for the lack of a large sales force. Large software companies can offer customers an 800 number to call and speak to a sales representative for more information. Smaller companies, like Tribe, can have questions answered by their hypermedia ad.

"There is a limit to the number of calls a sales force can take in a day," Mr. Ritter says, noting that his hyperad answers basic questions a potential customer might have. That leaves the sales force to concentrate more on making sales and less on providing general information.

Mailing out disks to hundreds of potential customers would seem to be a costly venture. But Mr. Ritter feels "the ad pays for itself." It works well for higher-end products, he says.

Mark Bernstein, chief scientist for Eastgate Systems Inc., a software development company, agrees. He says products such cars, computers and software work well for hyperads. "The audience may be smaller, but it's a nice one demographically."

"Hypermedia is niche marketing. Anything of that kind will be appealing to the advertiser," says Dr. Neil Kleinman, director of the Institute of Publications and Design at the University of Baltimore. Dr. Kleinman teaches a course on the history of mass communication.

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