Excite launches Web portal

As Excite.ca rolls out the largest dot-com advertising campaign in Canadian history, it is already bragging about its ability to attract Canadian Internet advertising to its upstart Web portal. Excite has booked more than $1 million in advertising for the 50-50...

As Excite.ca rolls out the largest dot-com advertising campaign in Canadian history, it is already bragging about its ability to attract Canadian Internet advertising to its upstart Web portal.

Excite has booked more than $1 million in advertising for the 50-50 joint venture between Rogers Communications and Redwood Calif.-based Excite@home. Advertisers include Canadian e-commerce veterans such as HMV, Indigo and Air Canada.

To fulfill the promise of delivering the eyeballs of Canadian Web surfers to those advertisers, Excite has launched a three-month, $6.5-million, multi-media advertising campaign – Canada’s largest Internet company campaign, says Jennifer Langley, Excite.ca’s director of marketing.

The campaign, created by Toronto-based BBDO, is concentrated in Toronto and Vancouver where Internet penetration is the highest.

Excite has its work cut out for it. Yahoo Canada is still the market leader with about half of the 8.3 million Canadians who went online in January visiting Yahoo.com or Yahoo.ca, according to Media Metrix Canada, which tracks online usage. Bell Canada’s Sympatico.ca site had about 2.1 million users, while about 1.35 million Canadians visited Excite.com, making it the 16th-most popular site visited by Canadians.

While Excite will attempt to pry away some consumers from its competitors, it is primarily targeting new entrants to the Internet who have not yet formed brand loyalty with a competing portal, says George Bell, president and CEO of Excite@home.

‘This is not a displacement strategy,’ says Bell. ‘The goal of Excite.ca is not to steal customers from Yahoo. The goal of Excite.ca is to grow in a marketplace where there are many uncommitted users.’

The launch of Excite draws a clear battle line between Rogers and Bell Canada parent BCE, which recently offered to buy Canadian broadcaster CTV to provide content for its recently formed Sympatico-Lycos Web portal.

Both companies are attempting to stem the flow of Canadian Web traffic to U.S. sites by creating a uniquely Canadian platform for Canadian Internet surfers and advertisers.

But industry watchers are skeptical that the current offerings will convince Canadians to jump on the Internet portal bandwagon.

‘The portal strategy is still largely untested,’ says Jordan Worth, a telecommunications analyst at Toronto-based International Data Corporation (Canada). ‘This is a battle of brand, a battle of billboards rather than a battle of bits.’

With the content on both Bell and Rogers sites currently available directly from the providers, or on other competing portal sites, there is little to convince consumers to use the sites as much more than search engines, he says.

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