December 1, 1999 4:50 PM PST

DoubleClick enters new marketing territory

Online advertiser DoubleClick may be a latecomer to the cramped field of email marketing, but the firm is making an aggressive push to clear a path for itself.

On Monday, the four-year-old company released a suite of new products marking its official entry into the email advertising arena. Today, DoubleClick announced the acquisition of a tiny, privately held Colorado company called Opt-in Email.com, which manages lengthy lists of emails belonging to potential consumers.

Now that it owns the services provided by Opt-in Email, DoubleClick will be able to launch its new line of email advertising products six months earlier than expected, said Eli Chalfin, a vice president at DoubleClick.

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed, except that the transaction involved stock, not cash.

Competitors, such as 24/7 Media, YesMail and NetCreations, have long been expecting DoubleClick to launch into online advertising, but they say the company is sorely lagging.

"They have a long way to go to catch up with us," said 24/7 Media vice president Michael Rowsom.

Jim Carini, a spokesman for Vernon Hill, Ill.-based YesMail, pointed out that "you can't build a database overnight for this kind of business. It'll take them a while."

Some industry analysts, however, view the Opt-in Email acquisition as a critical piece of the email advertising puzzle for DoubleClick.

"They can quickly build the technology, but not having people to target was definitely an Achilles heel for them," said Patrick Keane of Jupiter Communications.

Opt-in Email is a 17-employee operation that manages email consumer lists for more than 25 clients, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Mail.com, ShopNow.com, Microsoft and Won.com.

The company can send some 500,000 advertising emails an hour and has delivered more than 1.3 billion emails since it was established in mid-1995.

Its offices are only about a mile away from market researcher Abacus Direct, which recently won shareholder approval to merge with DoubleClick in a deal estimated at $1.7 billion.

The Abacus deal drew the ire of privacy groups, which worried that online consumer information would be used to beef up Abacus' database of mail-in catalogue customers. In other words, the groups feared that people seeking online information from advertisements would suddenly find themselves receiving catalogues they never wanted.

These concerns, however, have so far not been realized, analyst Keane said.

"I believe [DoubleClick] decided to scrap that piece of marrying the offline and online databases," Keane said. "Despite its obvious uses, it's been proven hard to do. There are tremendous privacy concerns."

Anti-spam organizations, too, have frowned upon DoubleClick's newly acquired power to send millions of email messages hawking wares. But company officials insist the efforts don't amount to unwanted or unsolicited ads. Users must request the information before delivery, Chaflin said.

 

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