United Online Races on TV With Faster ISP

LOS ANGELES United Online, the value-priced segment ISP incorporating NetZero, Juno and BlueLight, will break a campaign for its accelerated dial-up service on Labor Day during the Nascar Winston Cup broadcast on NBC, in which a NetZero-sponsored car (number “0”) will race.

The “HiSpeed Challenge” spot was “modeled after the Pepsi challenge campaign,” said Brian Woods, evp and chief marketing officer, United Online, Westlake Village, Calif. United Online Creative Services Group, Los Angeles, produced the ad in-house. Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo., handled planning, and Initiative Media North America, Los Angeles, performed media buying.

In the Los Angeles version of the campaign, locally tailored for airing in Boston, Chicago and Nashville, Tenn., two computers are set up in a mall and passers-by are invited to witness the downloading of identical Web pages using NetZero’s HiSpeed service and a normal dial-up. A meter shows NetZero’s page count racing ahead. Video-shot vox-pop testimonials by non-actors attest to the greater speed of the NetZero service. Woods said the company wanted a “low-budget” look.

Woods said United Online is “the only one talking about this on television, so we have to explain the new category of high-speed dial-up.” He said the product “maximizes caching information, with software recognizing elements that don’t change much, then uses a proprietary compression of data so less information is sent through telephone lines.”

The spots, Woods said, target a growing market for low-price Internet service. “We’re happy to be the Wal-Mart, not the Neiman-Marcus,” he said. Woods cited a International Data Corp. study projecting that even though the overall use of the Internet will slow compared to its meteoric past, users making less than $35,000 a year will jump from 11.7 million in 2002 to 29.7 million by 2006. “And people who can now buy a computer for $350 will not spend $50 a month on high-speed Internet,” he added.

Woods declined to specify the campaign budget for the ad, which may run into early 2004, but acknowledged the company has spent more this year, having seen positive results from “reinvesting in our brand.”

In 2002, the company spent more than $5 million advertising its brand, and an additional $6 million on Juno and $16 million on NetZero separately. Still, United Online is considerably outspent by AOL and MSN ($82 million each) and Earthlink ($40 million), all according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.