For suddenly thrifty dot-coms looking to squeeze every penny out of their remaining funding, the key to building name recognition may not be Super Bowl or radio ads, but apples and oranges.

Courtesy of the Fruit Label Co., small labels branded with a business' logo can be slapped on fresh produce for a fraction of what it costs to advertise in traditional media.

The Tarzana-based company serves as an intermediary between fruit growers and advertisers. Businesses (or their ad agencies) looking to use the unusual advertising method can contact Fruit Label, which then makes the stickers and makes deals with fruit suppliers to slap them on their produce.

It works much like the ubiquitous Chiquita sticker on bananas but these labels are emblazoned with logos for TV shows, Web sites and other business ventures.

Since search engine Ask Jeeves partnered with the company in a campaign earlier this year, a number of other tech companies have looked into the unusual idea. "We have been inundated by dot-com companies," said Irv Weinhaus, the company's president.

The company does not plan to launch ads for other dot-coms this year, considering the size of its deal with Ask Jeeves, which has already ordered 200 million labels. Fruit Label is, however, currently hammering out deals for 2001 with dot-coms, movie and video companies, cable television networks, and other businesses that would like to reach a national audience. Weinhaus wouldn't reveal their names because contracts are still being negotiated.

Sudden growth spurt

When Fruit Label was founded two years ago, the average order size was 15 million labels; that has risen to a typical order of 60 million to 100 million. The cost, at $2.97 per thousand stickers, means a company would need to spend $297,000 to get its logo on 100 million pieces of fruit.

That's a little more than the $250,000 a company would have to pay for a 30-second commercial during ABC's hit game show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" which reaches over 16 million homes across the country.

The obvious advantages of a radio or television ad are that a company has time to get detailed information about its services and products out to the public, whereas the labels are a quick hit. But unlike television or radio, you can't tune out a fruit label by surfing channels. The labels are viewed not only by consumers of the fruit, but also by shoppers who are merely passing through supermarket produce sections.

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