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IQ News: Not Quite a Powerhouse Yet, @Home Moonlights as Lab

Home Network, the high-speed cable access Internet service slowly spreading across the country, may one day be Internet advertising’s biggest outlet. But for now, the service has taken on a surprising identity: the world’s most elaborate marketing testbed.
Though the nascent Home reached only 50,000 households by year-end and has yet to sniff a profit, its ability to carry more advanced technology like broadband video, along with its penetration of suburban homes, has made it an appealing focus group setting for advertisers such as packaged goods marketers Lipton and Clorox, financial firm Charles Schwab and online matchmaking service Match.com.
Home officials are only too happy to embrace the idea. “We’re the church of what’s next,” claims Susan Bratton, director of advertising programs at the Redwood City, Calif.-based company.
Indeed, Home offers advertisers a playing field between the Internet’s wide reach but lower functionality and digital TV’s grand, interactive promises but microscopic delivery of audiences.
The Home network is sprinkled with banners at an average file size of 60K (most Web banners are 10K) and video is a common feature on the service. Its household penetration may not reach 1 million until 2000, according to analysts, compared with Web sites like Yahoo that monthly see 27 million visitors, but its users fit the average cable profile: a more mainstream, suburban, upper middle-class American that appeals to a wider range of advertisers.
Bratton says that while the service still reaches these people, the most effective campaigns have been those that exploit Home’s broadband capabilities.
One such advertiser, Match.com, ran a static image campaign on Home earlier last year that resulted in about three new registrants over a six-month period, according to Bratton. She adds that after Home created a video campaign for the online matchmaking service, Match.com’s click-through rate jumped to 26 percent and it registered 23 users in eight days. It subsequently took elements of this campaign to the Web and has reported increases in click-through there, too.
Next month, Oakland, Calif.-based Clorox plans to use Home in its second online campaign for Brita, its water filter brand. (Last year, after launching its site, Clorox ran a brief banner campaign on the Web to drive traffic to www.brita.com.)
In March, the company will test e-commerce for the first time through a campaign on Home that will examine whether consumers will purchase the Brita filters over the Net. It will also allow Clorox to determine how much online commerce might cut into sales in the brick-and-mortar world. –with Bernhard Warner