Jim Hoenscheid, Lycos' director of promotions, used to hear one question time and time again in his old job: "Isn't all motor oil the same?" Well, no, Hoenscheid, the former director of retail marketing at Lexington, Ken.-based Valvoline, would explain. These days, the inquiry is posed at his new employer, and, again, his answer is no, Lycos isn't the same as the other competitors in the so-called search engine category.
Of course, the companies in the category now consider themselves portals--consumer-friendly gateways onto the Net. But it is perhaps only evident to the most discerning Web user that such industry players as Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos, Yahoo and Excite are trying to give each of their on-ramps to the Internet a distinct personality using both off- and online media.
In Lycos' case, the task means Hoenscheid is brokering deals with movie studios, sports leagues and concert promoters to get the brand into venues where people aren't necessarily thinking about their home computers. For instance, Hoenscheid worked with New Line Cinema to distribute Lycos-customized Net access software to Lost In Space moviegoers.
Hoenscheid joined Lycos in November, having long worked in the field at Valvoline with retailers on strategies to sell more cans of the 130-year-old motor oil brand. He made many contacts in the sports and entertainment world in that role, but his specialty was using motor sports to rev up the image of the Valvoline brand.
Despite the vast differences between motor oil and online portals, the past experience has come in handy. A connection at Rouse Racing, the Charlotte, N.C.-based firm that specializes in motor sports sponsorships, helped the 32-year-old Hoenscheid land a full-year sponsorship for Lycos of NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth. Not only was the deal an Internet first, but it became an attention-grabber at a recent trade show in Chicago when Hoenscheid brought the Lycos race car onto the showroom floor. "We were getting a lot of attention," he says proudly.
But why would a portal site care about having its name plastered across the hood of a car?
Hoenscheid explains, "With consumer packaged goods companies, you're always trying to get the additional sale--one more quart of motor oil, one more box of cereal. With a free service on the Internet, you're trying to gain one more new user."
Don't be surprised to find the Lycos logo in more offline environs, Hoenscheid predicts. "If it fits, we'll be there."