IQ Interactive Special Report: Interactive Marketing Awards - Best Marketing Technology - Comet Systems | Adweek
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IQ Interactive Special Report: Interactive Marketing Awards - Best Marketing Technology - Comet Systems

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Comet's popular plug-in deserves much more than a cursory glance.
Business is stellar for Comet Systems Inc., a fact reflected in the company's recent acquisition of a venerable corner of New York real estate: the two-story, 24,000-square-foot former home of the Spanish language newspaper, El Diario, at 143 Varick. The irony is that Comet's success comes from its acquisition of the smallest corner of screen real estate: the nickel-sized cursor space.
Not only has Comet laid claim to the 32-by-32 pixel arrow--something a lot of people are probably kicking themselves for not having done themselves--but they've developed technology that leverages the fact that, broadband notwithstanding, most Americans are still dialing into the Web at 28k bps.
The idea for Comet Systems came to the company's founder and chairman, Jamie Rosen, in 1997. He reasoned that, while most of the Web is full of bells and whistles, animation and graphics, the cursor space was dead. "Yet it's the most focal part of the screen," he says. "It's 42nd and Broadway, because it's where your eye is almost all the time." Rosen then did extensive research and found nobody had tried to animate the cursor online, though the idea was nascent in photo and graphics packages that turn the cursor into a selected tool.
Comet Cursor, the company's flagship product launched in 1998, allows banner advertisers and site publishers to change the appearance of a user's cursor with a client plug-in and
server-based software, linked to a site or banner. Central to its theme of catering to the modem-compromised (most of us), the plug-in is thin--about 28 kilobytes--and a Comet image is only 1 kilobyte. "It takes about 30 seconds to download the plug-in at 28k; for the cursor image, the download is immediate," claims Rosen. A typical banner, by comparison, comprises about 8 to 10 kilobytes.
When a user with the plug-in passes his or her cursor over a "Cometized" banner or page, it changes into a custom image. At Comedy Central, the cursor morphs into South Park characters. In an Energizer banner ad, it becomes the ubiquitous pink Energizer bunny. The effect can be page-wide, so even if the banner isn't visible, the cursor keeps on branding. The application sits on the status bar, bottom right. When a user clicks on it, a window pops up. They can then call up any cursors they've already used, which are cached, or dial-in to My Comet Cursor and download cursors in their library. The plug-in, claims vp of marketing Ben Austin, is the fastest growing one in the history of the Internet.
He explains that the cursor is ultimately a tool for more site interactivity, offering the ability for advertisers and site publishers to change a cursor in a lot of different ways over different links, such as giving a user a price on an item as he or she mouses over it. "It's not simply a billboard on a cursor," says Austin. "It also has media-mining capabilities, based on broad distribution and user tracking."
Since the two-and-a-half-year-old company launched Comet Cursor, business has burgeoned. In April of last year, Warner Bros. Online and Comet Systems entered into a strategic partnership in which the Warner Brothers homepage, as well as its sites for Looney Tunes, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Friends, and numerous film sites were Cometized. Then, in May, BellSouth launched the first Comet Cursor-enabled banner ad campaign. That month, Media Metrix data declared Comet Systems the fourth most-popular Web Tools site, in traffic, behind ICQ, Real Networks and Macromedia.
Current Comet clients include site publishers Yahoo!, Comedy Central, AT&T WorldNet, Alta Vista and Universal Studios. Advertisers with Comet-enabled banners include BellSouth, Warner Bros., Energizer, AT&T, IBM, 24/7 Media and Flycast. Austin says the company now boasts over 180,00 Comet Cursor-enabled sites.
The company's growth continues unallayed. Nielsen/NetRatings statistics for fourth quarter 1999 reveal that Comet Systems was the second most-visited site by unique users during that period, behind eToys, and the
second-fastest growing site on the Internet, with a more than 430 percent gain in unique users during that period.
"We began the quarter with a base of 10 million users with the plug-in, and on New Year's Eve, our user base passed 20 million," says Austin. He says the installed Comet user base recently shot past the 34 million mark. Twice since April, Comet Systems has appeared in Nielsen's top 25 most-visited sites. "That's amazing since we never advertise," notes Austin. He points out that the company recently inked a deal with Mattel, which will introduce Comet Cursors to Mattel's generationgirls.com in late June.
The company launched CometZone--originally LiveCursors--in late 1998. The free service allows site publishers to Cometize their sites with any image found in a 2,000-plus collection of cursors at cometzone.com. "With CometZone a publisher can Comet-enable their site for free. In exchange, they post a button that says 'Cool Cursors Courtesy of CometZone,' that includes a download option," says Austin.
Since success depends on broadening the user base, Comet has made recent distribution deals. The company inked pacts with Web portal Lycos in February for distribution of a co-branded version of CometZone. In May, Comet Systems formed another alliance with Lycos to serve CometZone to four million users of Angelfire, Lycos' free Web-hosting site.
My Comet Cursor, another freebie aimed at getting more users Cometized, launched in February. The site, www.mycometcursor.com, allows users to download the requisite plug-in and customize their own cursors from a free cursor library in categories like sports, music, the Hansons, Judaica and everything in between. "After we shipped the Comet Cursors, people started sending us e-mail that said 'This is great, how can I make this my own cursor? Do you have sports cursors? Can you make a Brazilian flag; can you make a Jesus? A Fish?' My Comet Cursor is the next logical iteration," says Austin, who adds that the free cursors have become extremely popular. "In the first month following its February 29 launch, there were one million downloads of the plug-in," he says.
Rosen says that, down the line, the company will be looking at ways to enhance Comet Cursor's versatility and interactivity with links, allowing it to do more than simply transmute into branded images: "We are governed not only by what our clients and business partners want. We are also very responsive to what users want as well."
Austin explains that simplicity is a big part of Comet's user acceptance. "We've been successful," says Austin, "because we've been a good technology for the masses and one reason is that Comet Cursors are simple enough to use on a Web page, and the client is simple and unobtrusive on a PC."--Karl Greenberg

cometizer effective
With clickthroughs in the slumps, a recent study by Naperville, Ill.-based Millward Brown may help those who are either wondering whether the traffic justifies the banners or are desperate to light-up their ads without losing users with narrowband access.
The consultancy's study, completed in February 1999, demonstrates the effectiveness of the Cometized cursor as a branding tool. The study, sponsored by Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, MasterCard and Cendant, and hosted by Lycos.com, NBC.com, Women.com, FortuneCity.com and GameSpot involved 14,000 subjects assigned to a control group shown just the banners for the two products and a test group shown Cometized banners.
The results of the study showed that the lift in advertising awareness for Cometized banners was an astronomical 222 percent, while the lift in top-of-mind unaided brand awareness was 39 percent. Additionally Millward Brown's study found that the Comet Cursor can assist a banner in increasing overall opinion, purchase intent and perceptions of brand. Clickthroughs increased 97 percent, from a combined average of 1.45 percent for the Crest and Pepcid AC banners alone to an average 2.86 percent for the Cometized versions.
"The Comet cursor more than doubled Pepcid's level of clickthroughs and almost doubled Crest's. A lot of advertisers would be happy with that type of effect," said Nigel Hollis, an analyst with Millward Brown.
Why does the Comet Cursor work? "Quite simply," says Rex Briggs, executive vice president of Millward Brown, "it is an effective 'creative magnifier.' " The term was coined by MB to denote the most involving aspect of an advertisement.
"From a researcher's point of view, the Comet Cursor is extremely effective in building a brand," adds Briggs. "That's great news for advertisers." He says that when used properly--to embody that creative magnifier--it can drive home the messages that advertisers want to send.
"It is essential," says Briggs, "that the creative magnifier include the brand name or some mnemonic device that generates brand-linked recall. This helps the ad communicate effectively."--K