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.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group