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Amazon Readies Return to TV

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NEW YORK Amazon is readying a return to TV advertising after it stopped running commercials in 2002.

The Internet retail giant isn't ready to hire an agency yet. Instead, it has kicked off a user-generated commercial contest to find submissions that tell its story. Amazon plans to work with winners to craft their entries into TV spots.

Steve Shure, vice president of global marketing at Amazon.com, described the effort as "experimental," noting that Amazon holds its marketing to strict metrics tying back to visits to the site. Running TV spots is dependent on the "Your Amazon Ad" contest generating solid creative, he added.

"If we do succeed, then we will buy airtime and let the customers see those ads," he said.

The brief is open ended: "It's completely up to you. You could show us anything, from how fast you can place an order to how excited your dog gets when he sees the delivery guy. Just show us something that would catch your eye (and, better yet, rewind your DVR!) and make you want to shop with Amazon."

Amazon will judge entries based on their creativity, overall appeal and likelihood to make people want to shop at Amazon.

Amazon in its early days spent heavily on advertising during the dot-com boom. In 1999, it spent $37 million on advertising, according to TNS Media Intelligence. It soon began cutting ad spending to steer that money into customer lures like free service. In 2007, it spent just $1.5 million on advertising, according to Nielsen. Last year, that jumped to $4 million.

Amazon's product offering has become more complex over the years as it expanded from books and electronics to include groceries, digital media and the Kindle.

Shure wouldn't rule out an agency review in the future. Amazon has been without a lead agency since parting ways with Fallon. It also worked with Wieden + Kennedy and FCB Worldwide.

"We wouldn't rule out more conventional approaches to TV advertising or any other advertising," he said. "We're evaluating it separately."

Many Internet businesses skipped TV advertising in favor of building their brands online through great customer service, word of mouth and Web ads. Most of Amazon's marketing, for instance, is in the form of search ads and a large affiliate program. Google has set the pace in this regard, building its brand without any TV advertising. In May, it ran its first TV spot to promote its Chrome browser. Those spots have stopped running, according to a Google spokesman. It is continuing to promote Chrome through online ads and is now running a contest for users to post videos showing them making the Chrome logo in creative ways.

Amazon likewise sees an opportunity to tap into the creativity of its consumer base as well as creatives lured by the attention of winning the contest and the two $10,000 Amazon gift cards for the winning submissions.

"What we're expecting to get out of it is great advertising creative," Shure said.