The world is for sale pixel by pixel

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Is selling online advertising by the millimeter just a fad or is it the killer app of Internet marketing?

A trio of Miami-area college students and budding entrepreneurs are banking on the latter with their new pixel-advertising Web site: ownonlinerealestate.com.

“We feel this is an upward trend,” said Navid Zolfaghari, a 19-year-old who studies at University of Florida’s Honors College. “It’ll be big soon.”

The pixel advertising phenomenon made headlines last fall when British student Alex Tew, searching for a way to pay for his college education, put up a web site and sold ads on it for $1 per pixel, which measure a maximum of 1 mm by 1 mm, depending on screen resolution.

Publicity about Tew’s mission helped drive sales and soon his milliondollarpage.com was crammed full of tiny logos. Click on a logo and the user is taken to the advertiser’s website.

Tew reached his goal of making $1 million after auctioning the last 1,000 pixels for $38,000 on eBay.

Media reports about Tew’s success rocketed around the world and spawned hundred copy-cats.

But analysts note that Tew’s hitting the bigtime was largely a novelty-driven fluke.

The key flaw in Tew’s pixel-ad business model is a lack of content that would drive a user to a pixel-ad website, which is essentially a big billboard and nothing else.

“I don’t put much stock in it,” said Cliff Kurtzman, who runs the Online Advertising Discussion Forum. “I don’t think it has legs.”

Kris Oser, who covers interactive advertising for Advertising Age, said it might work on a website that already generates significant traffic, such as a social network.

“I don’t know why you would want your ad crammed in there with everyone else,” she said.

But some Internet enthusiasts believe it could work if the websites have “good design, a niche and good traffic,” wrote Bindea Marius, who runs PixelAdsTalk.com, an online forum with 581 members, and freePixelAdvertising.com, in an e-mail interview.

“The pixel advertising concept has really continued to prove itself as a real Internet marketing option,” Marius wrote. “Targeted pixel sites with a good traffic will continue to be a good option for any advertiser.”

The Miami college students, all finance majors who graduated in 2004 from Coral Gables Senior High, are pivoting their site on a 500,000-pixel map of the United States and thus are pitching it as destination driven.

The idea is that advertisers would place their ad, a minimum of 10 pixels by 10 pixels, over the geographical area they want to pinpoint.

Zolfaghari and friends Thomas Avery of Miami, who studies at Arizona State University, and Kyle Haines of Doral, who attends Boston College, have already landed one advertiser for 100 bucks, which buys a 6-year-long exposure: speakforyourcity.com. Its logo hovers over North Dakota.

They’ve also started a college-life blog on the site to help boost traffic numbers.

The three pals, who formed a company last summer to set up entrepreneurial ventures called Globex, cobbled together a couple hundred dollars to start up the site with a domain name and server space.

They’ve been posting it on blogs, sending e-mails to potential advertisers and huddling with marketing professors for advice.

“We’re confident traffic will come,” Avery said.

Spoken like a true Internet entrepreneur.

“The great thing about the Internet is that you can try things pretty inexpensively,” said Ad Age’s Oser.

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