The Riddler...

At least things are moving along in the right direction. Initially, the relationship between advertising and the Internet was a lot more than just awkward, there was open hostility.

The fundamental problem with advertising on the Internet is that the consumer is paying for the message and in some cases, acutely aware of just how much the message may be costing. In the early days, a few lines of inappropriate text didnít do a lot of harm but now sensitive consumers may bridle at the cost in connection charges, computer storage or time spent downloading someoneís artsy fartsy commercial graphics.

The answer is, well, they donít have to - it is easy enough to turn graphics off on your Web browser. And, the more thoughtful Net surfers recognise that when they watch satellite or cable TV or any of the commercial broadcast stations, they get to view the adverts right along with the programmes that they are ostensibly paying to receive.

The trick for the advertising fraternity is to get Netizens to WANT to download the ads - because they are entertaining or informative. On the Web this means using all of the technical bandwidth to exploit the maximum consumer bandwidth using Madison Avenue ingenuity.

Enter The Riddler

New York-based Interactive Imaginations has launched Riddler, an online contest that provides an entertaining forum for Internet advertising. And, they maintain, itís effective, too.

Riddler is a challenging interactive game of skill which is organised around a central riddle that changes each week.

In competition for a pot of thousands of dollars in cash prizes, Riddler players navigate the Internet in search of clues to solve the gameís riddle. The cyber-scavenger hunt leads players to advertisersí home pages on the Web, where they must then spend time looking for more clues and answering trivia questions. Riddler is at http://www.riddler.com and has attracted Silicon Graphics, Zima and others to the bandwagon so far.

"Riddler is the first successful advertising vehicle to attract a targeted demographic group to a businessí home page - and then bring them back again and again," said Michael Paolucci, president of Interactive Imaginations.

While players access the game for free to play, the information that they give when they register give Interactive Imaginations valuable demographic data that is used to track the effectiveness of the advertiserís spread. Interactive report the results back to sponsors. Through Riddler proprietary technology Riddler can identify who is en route to a sponsorís site and can dynamically select a version of the advertiser page that is most appropriate. An ad tuned to the viewer! It will be a long time before other broadcast media can get close to this!

Riddler has already achieved a sizeable audience, with an average of 170,000 hits daily. More significantly, Riddler players visit each sponsorís home page an average of 50 times a month. "The reason that we are getting 170,000 hits a day is simple: Riddler is fun to play and, like many of the best interactive games, it is somewhat addictive," Paolucci explained. While repetition is no sure guarantee that the message is understood and believed, itís a start.

Of course, no matter how catchy the game, there has to be good content and elegant design on the page to get the message across, Peter Dawe, MD of Unipalm PIPEX explained. "Commercial Web success is almost guaranteed if you have a good design, massive hits by the right sort of viewer and fast delivery of the pages. All of the components must be there or the exercise is far less effective than needed to produce excellent results."

In addition to the weekly Riddler game, the Riddler Network includes Marlowís Crispy Challenge, a daily puzzle game which rewards the winner with "crispy new cash," and The Tortoise and the Hare, a cumulative points derby based on successful play of the Riddler and Marlow games. Both of these games are also located on the Riddler home page.

"Riddler may seem gimmicky and will undoubtedly be emulated to death, but it shows that Web surfers respond to the creative exploitation of Web capabilities. Now the hard part will be finding advertising talent that knows its beans about Web marketing," Dawe asserted.