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"If you are responsible for a brand that has been around for 50 years, you clearly are more cautious," said Kelly Twohig, who manages digital investment for Starcom, a media agency. "You have less license to innovate."

Aptimus's Wrubel, a Web veteran who was chief executive of AskJeeves.com, said he thinks that the big advertisers will soon make the transition online. The possibilities of the medium have yet to be fully explored, he said.

"We are now going to see large advertisers do what they did with television in the '50s -- to get behind programming," he said, offering that the advertisers are likely to capitalize on the Internet's social and interactive aspects. "The medium offers a fundamentally different experience for consumers."

Although the University of Phoenix continues to shell out a large sum of money on selling itself -- it spent more on advertising last year than it did for faculty compensation, according to its annual report -- Wrubel is focused on changing how its story is presented.

Like other companies marketing online, the University of Phoenix is considering and adopting new Web advertising strategies, some of which blur the line between advertising and programming.

Being everywhere on the Web, after all, is not the same as being understood or valued.

Wrubel wants to encourage faculty members to have blogs so that when a person searches on a given subject, the results might lead them to the University of Phoenix. He speculates that the company could produce reality-TV "webisodes" involving people going back to school -- a way to find and engage the target audience.

And the company has recently initiated a partnership with the young folksinger Kate Voegele, the first artist signed to MySpace Records.

Voegele is taking University of Phoenix classes online, and a MySpace page with her music includes a Web video diary of her touring and making time for studies.

"It's better than blasting them with banner ads," Wrubel said. "It's the purest form of advertising. It's testimonial. Rather than just remember our banner ads, people can remember our story."


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