By Bernhard Warner

Sharon Fordham prides herself on being a computer pioneer. The president of LifeSavers rattles off her PC rap sheet like a decorated soldier. She’s been booting up since the late ’70s, while a student at the Wharton Graduate School of Business (computer programming courses were required). A Mac fan, the 45-year-old Fordham says she bought an Apple II+ in 1981 and upgraded to the original Mac in 1984, and she fondly remembers such milestones as when color monitors first made their appearance.

At LifeSavers, the Parsippany, N.J.-based division of Nabisco, Fordham is well schooled in brand advertising. But the first fruit of her Internet vision made its debut in April–and was swiftly criticized., with 15 arcade-style games and eight on-line zines, was slammed by Forrester Research for cluttering branding with entertainment.

Fordham counters that the reality of the medium is that no one is an expert. ‘There are no standards for how to measure (the Net’s) impact on business. This represents a learning lab for us,’ she says.

‘But it’s not just content for content’s sake,’ Fordham adds. ‘We had specific objectives. We viewed it as an emerging marketing medium that extends our advertising and promotional reach.’

As for entertainment, it brings people back, Fordham says. ‘There are a lot of people out there developing sites that look like 10-Ks on steroids.’ Fordham boasts that Candystand draws traffic on par with the popular game sites.

The site has been constructed with the entire family in mind. LifeSavers candy skews to adults, so word and trivia contests were developed for the brand. Teen brand Bubble Yum has a foul-shooting contest; Ice Breaker gum, aimed at young adults, a hockey game.

The content, Fordham figures, is so compelling that she is exploring the prospect of accepting advertisers and more importantly, conducting on-line commerce fairly soon. ‘We’ll start to look into on-line commerce for the fourth quarter’ of 1997, she says.

Fordham is not bothered by working with Internet marketers who are little more than half her age. Most packaged goods brand managers are less receptive to the medium, but for her, the Net ‘is part of my personal comfort level.’

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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