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EarthLink Launches eBay Marketing Campaign

EarthLink Wednesday launched a new campaign to lure current customers of Prodigy and other Internet providers to its service.

Using the eBay online auction site, EarthLink made a direct switch-and-save offer to customers of Netcom, Prodigy Classic and other online services.

The EarthLink deal on eBay recommends dissatisfied Netcom customers switch to EarthLink. When a customer switches to EarthLink, the company will skip the standard $25 setup fee. Netcom customers that switch will receive a free month of Internet access and get a check for $50 after two months of paid Internet service from EarthLink,

Netcom was purchased by MindSpring Enterprises Inc. in January of this year and the acquisition of Netcom's subscriber base was just completed this month. MindSpring is currently offering Netcom customers the opportunity to switch to MindSpring Internet access at a discount using a digital coupon posted at the Netcom Web site.

The EarthLink guerilla marketing campaign targets online service "switchers" whose current ISP may be falling victim to mergers, sell-off transactions and service phase-outs. It is reminiscent of the long-distance marketing wars between MCI, Sprint and AT&T that resulted in regulatory action to protect consumers rights.

"This is an open invitation to all Internet and online service customers who are being traded between providers, shifted around within their own service or are simply sick of getting poor Internet access," said Garry Betty, EarthLink's president and chief executive officer.

"We're saying, 'Avoid getting a raw deal; take control of your destiny; graduate up to a higher level of Internet service -- and get paid for doing it!'"

"Roughly 65 percent of our members come from other services," Betty said. "We call them 'graduates' because they've gotten a taste of the Internet, it's become important to them, and they are now in search of the best access and the best resources to understand and utilize the Internet."

EarthLink's auction offer kicks off an ongoing predatory marketing campaign. The ISP says it will mount further campaigns to extend its reach into the "switcher" market.

At this point, EarthLink is not concerned about starting a switch-and-save marketing war. However, the company does believe that such a possibility would be interesting.

"We like being a catalyst in this industry. We like asserting our industry position in creative ways that underscore who we are and how we got to be one of the industry's leading ISPs" said Arley Baker, EarthLink's media relations manager.

Baker attributed EarthLink's success to effective marketing strategies and solid Internet service that has built strong customer loyalty. According to Baker, EarthLink's churn rate is roughly 3.6 percent, well below industry average of 6 to 8 percent.

According to industry statistics, approximately 13 million consumers switch their ISPs in search of better services each year. Targeting the switchers market segment represents a new approach to customer acquisition among ISPs.