IM Marketing Picks up Steam

Instant messenger “bot” maker ActiveBuddy is seeing increased attraction among advertisers, signing a host of traditional marketers to its decidedly non-traditional marketing solution.

Through recent deals, Web auctioneer eBay , Lagardere’s ELLEgirl.com, and Ford Motor Co. have signed on as clients of the New York-based startup, which makes applications that consumers can “chat” with via AOL Time Warner’s instant messenger service.

The eBay bot, “My eBay Buddy,” came into being through AOL’s alliance with eBay. The bot, which an eBay spokesman told InternetNews.com is being beta tested with AOL Instant Messenger users, aims to not only promote the auction site and its merchant partners — which include Home Depot and Sharper Image — but also to serve as an always-on help feature for eBay users.

ELLEgirl.com, which uses “ELLEgirlBuddy” to promote content on the ELLEgirl.com site and subscriptions to the magazine, said it’s seen tremendous success with the project since its launch on Feb. 19. While the bot had been intended to serve as a branding tool for the magazine, ELLEgirl.com spokespeople said they had seen an immediate return in terms of increased visitors and subscriptions.

“It was originally launched as a branding tool … we wanted to extent the ELLEgirl brand into many, many mediums, and within less than a month, we’ve seen the results and effects on traffic,” said Judy Koutsky, senior director of Lagardere Interative, which oversees ELLEgirl.com. She said the bot had increased February site traffic 83 percent over January.

ELLEgirl also said the first two weeks of March had produced 50 percent more subscription signups than all of February, and the company is on track this month to see more than five times’ January’s new subscriptions — boosts that it attributes to “ELLEgirlBuddy”.

The magazine, which has a six-month exclusivity deal with ActiveBuddy to be the only teen publication using the service, also said the bot’s success is due to its teenaged-seeming “personality,” which manifests itself in diction (“y did u say that?”) and in responses to questions from users. For instance, the bot can talk about its family, living in San Francisco, and so on.

“When teens go online to talk to ELLEgirlBuddy, they are also talking to a friend … we created this whole personality over the ELLEgirlBuddy,” Koutsky said. “That’s what leads it to be so successful … we have an over 50 percent retention rate of girls that visit the Buddy that return.”

For Ford, which came to work with ActiveBuddy through the efforts of the automaker’s ad agency, J. Walter Thompson and AOL, the firm will be promoting its sponsorship of the WB series “NoBoundaries”.

The bot involved in the effort, “NoBoundariesTV,” tells IM users about upcoming developments in the adventure series, and directs users to the NoBoundariesTV.com site.

In addition to the launches of Buddies for eBay and ELLEgirl.com, ActiveBuddy also recently rolled out a bot for AOL Time Warner, in conjunction with the upcoming Academy Awards. Through that effort, “TattleTeller” dishes Hollywood dirt and encourages users to visit sites for Time Inc. magazine properties, including Entertainment Weekly and People.

That bot is an addition to continuing work in partnership with AOL and Reuters , the latter of which is an investor in the firm. Previous work for AOL Time Warner included promotions for Warner Bros. Records recording artist Lindsay Pagano, and AOL’s New Line Cinema unit’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Many of the company’s bots syndicate Reuters news headlines.

The move comes amid advertisers’ increasing perception of the Internet as a critical way to market to teens. Because the demographic is both highly media-savvy and relatively knowledgeable about new technology, a host of traditional marketers are beginning to see online media as a key way to reach youngsters.

The movement has benefited plays like Web publisher and marketing services provider Alloy.com , which is flirting with profitability on the strength of its youth-oriented content and publications. Similarly, some say IM could be one of the next major channels to be adopted by marketers eager to reach teens.

“Seventy-four percent of teens use instant messaging,” Koutsky said. “Teens are instant messaging each other all the time, and it’s a way for them to interact with their favorite celebrities or buddies.”

Added ActiveBuddy spokesperson Emily Lenzner, “They recognized the appeal of these agents, especially within that young demographic. I guess that’s the demographic that everyone’s trying to reach in a very cost effective way.”

She added that the firm is looking into making its bot-creation tools available to consumers, and to enterprise clients as a data-dissemination tool.

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