Sympatico-Lycos goes local

Ten years ago, Bell Canada gave Marc Tellier a summer job. Today, the telco giant is giving him command of its recently formed Sympatico-Lycos portal, and counting on him to produce $100 million in annual advertising and e-commerce revenue by the...

Ten years ago, Bell Canada gave Marc Tellier a summer job. Today, the telco giant is giving him command of its recently formed Sympatico-Lycos portal, and counting on him to produce $100 million in annual advertising and e-commerce revenue by the end of 2001.

Bell will commence a teaser advertising campaign in April to promote the revamped site, which is slated to launch in May, although it has yet to determine which agency will handle creative duties. But instead of marketing Sympatico-Lycos as a strictly national portal, Tellier plans to create a network of local sites that will deliver more specific audiences to advertisers, and at the same time encourage regional businesses to develop e-commerce offerings.

Bell is already a partner in Toronto.com and MontrealPlus.ca, and Tellier says the company will unveil a dozen more online city guides beginning with QuebecPlus.ca this month. Community-themed sites like Toronto.com, which is already one of the leading Canadian originating Web sites according to Media Metrix Canada, provide a range of local entertainment, weather, and business news, making them popular properties among merchants and advertisers who want to reach regional audiences.

‘The approach we have, which I think is unique in the global marketplace, is to not only offer that national play, but the strong local play combined with the directory component,’ says Tellier, president and CEO of Sympatico-Lycos, which is 71% owned by Bell. ‘Having a multiple brand strategy, a federation of sites, will clearly bring a much better value proposition to the advertisers than a generic national portal.’

Not everyone, however, is enamoured of the local portal strategy, much less the initial deal with Lycos. In early February, Bell invested $37 million to form Sympatico-Lycos, although Bell chairman and CEO Jean Monty indicated the total investment could climb as high as $125 million over the next few years.

The deal will essentially create a Canadian version of the popular Lycos network, thereby enabling Bell to stem the flow of Canadian Web traffic and ad dollars to the U.S.

But some industry watchers, who expected to see Bell unload its estimated $7-billion war chest on a major acquisition, were less than impressed with the Lycos joint venture, which essentially provides a Canadian conduit for a host of Lycos-branded products and services. Such components include the Angelfire and Tripod Web sites, where surfers can build free home pages, Quote.com, a finance and investment site, and Sonique, a music-themed site where users can download audio files and MP3 players.

‘I’m not a big believer in what Bell is trying to do in its recent localizations of its so-called Internet strategy,’ says Iain Grant, an analyst at Brockville, Ont.-based Yankee Group who is highly dubious of both the cost and value of the Lycos deal to Bell.

‘Paying $100 million to not talk about your products on Lycos I think shows a great victory for Lycos salesmanship,’ he says.

Jordan Worth, an Internet analyst at International Data Corporation (Canada) in Toronto, says, ‘It’s basically the same as cable companies adding more American channels.’

But despite, or perhaps because of, his youth, the 31-year-old Tellier seems remarkably undaunted by skeptics, and is confident the model that Bell is using will make Sympatico-Lycos the most popular online destination for consumers and advertisers alike.

‘At the end of the day, a winning Internet strategy comes down to three things – innovative business models, powerful distribution channels, and great marketing,’ he says knowingly.

Tellier, however, boasts no formal marketing experience, although he has held enough positions within the BCE family of companies to bring a singular perspective to the job. He took a summer job as a financial analyst at Bell in 1990, three years through his economics degree at the University of Ottawa. After finishing his studies in 1991, he joined the company full time as a customer systems engineer, before moving on to co-found the company’s investor relations department.

By the time he was 29, Tellier was already vice-president, business development at BCE Emergis, and was busy forging corporate alliances and partnerships. The next year, he moved to Bell ActiMedia as vice-president, new media and alliances, where he oversaw all of Bell’s Internet properties (with the exception of Sympatico), such as Yellowpages.ca and Canada 411.

ActiMedia, which publishes both conventional and online directories, will play a pivotal role in luring advertisers to Sympatico-Lycos, and in helping Bell to meet its $100-million target, explains Tellier, who concedes that Canada still lags about 18 months behind the U.S. in e-commerce development.

‘Our relationship with Bell Actimedia is so important to us. The fact that we actually talk to every single small and medium business out there in the context of their print yellow pages – there’s a huge opportunity there.’

While many industry observers are still atwitter about the possibility of major content deals, Tellier says his most pressing goal is to stanch the flow of Internet traffic to U.S. sites, where approximately 80% of Canadian surfers – and thereby ad dollars and e-commerce transactions – terminate.

In addition to providing Lycos services with the .ca suffix, Bell has purchased a substantial chunk of advertising inventory on the Lycos network in the U.S. in an effort to repatriate Canadian surfers.

According to Media Metrix Canada, Sympatico, the eighth-most visited site among Canadians, received 2.4 million unique visitors in December, compared to just a shade under two million unique Canadian visitors for Lycos. Bell hopes the ads can convince the majority of Canadians who visit Lycos.com to access these products within the Sympatico-Lycos network, and bring precious advertisers with them.

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.
Google

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.