IQ News: Extempo Avatars




Tout P&G, Petopia
Striking a blow for clean freaks and animal lovers everywhere, Extempo, a technology company that develops intelligent interactive guides for Web sites, today launched a Mr. Clean character created for the Procter & Gamble icon and a Virtual Jack dog character designed for Petopia.com.
The Mr. Clean character, located at www.mrclean.com, answers burning questions such as “How do I get the mold out of my tile grout?” Virtual Jack, who resides at www.petopia.com, offers Netsurfers a unique take on a dog’s life.
“We get thousands of cleaning-type questions every month on our phone lines,” said Damon Jones, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. “We turned to the Web to help answer people’s questions.” Petopia of San Francisco declined to comment for this article.
“Our clients are business-to-consumer enterprises that want to personalize the user’s experience on the Internet,” said Dr. Barbara Hayes-Roth, who founded Redwood City, Calif.-based Extempo in 1995.
The company has created about a dozen characters besides Mr. Clean and Virtual Jack, including a Santa character that appeared on the sites of Japan-based Sega and Fairfield, Calif.-based Jelly Belly last December.
Visitors to Petopia’s site click on the Virtual Jack character on the homepage to play with the dog. Jack barks, rolls over, fetches and en- gages in other animated behavior.
Users can type in their questions and get answers from Jack, who also guides visitors to interesting areas on the site. The dog’s comments are audible and visible in a cartoon balloon. In addition, Jack gathers information, such as how many pets a visitor has, for use in permission marketing.
Visitors to the Mr. Clean site are greeted by the familiar figure himself, speaking in a low, sexy voice. Mr. Clean acts as something of a search engine, displaying URLs of various Procter & Gamble and outside sites in answers to questions. Like Virtual Jack, Mr. Clean asks for information from visitors after he has answered their questions.
Petopia’s Virtual Jack has a counterpart at the rival Pets.com site, the Sock Puppet, which was created by a freelance puppeteer. Although the character is quite well-known, having been featured in national Pets.com ads and interviewed on Nightline and Good Morning America, the Sock Puppet is not animated and does not interact with users in real time. Will it be a dogfight between the two, or is there room on the Internet for two pet avatars?
Extempo’s Hayes-Roth said there’s definitely room for both, in her opinion. “I believe eventually every site on the Internet will have interactive characters,” she said.