ANALYSIS - Weekly Web Watch - Dot-coms push the envelope (and raise the bar) on PR stunts

There is a way to launch a dot-com company without having to spend millions on Super Bowl advertising, or (if you’re a bit short on cash) by trying to scream above the din of competing Internet advertisers on the cable and network channels.

There is a way to launch a dot-com company without having to spend millions on Super Bowl advertising, or (if you’re a bit short on cash) by trying to scream above the din of competing Internet advertisers on the cable and network channels.

There is a way to launch a dot-com company without having to spend

millions on Super Bowl advertising, or (if you’re a bit short on cash)

by trying to scream above the din of competing Internet advertisers on

the cable and network channels.



The entrepreneurial classes like to call it guerrilla marketing. To

people older than 23, it’s called PR. Or in even plainer language, a

good old-fashioned publicity stunt that is going to get you noticed.

It’s how online career information provider Vault.com got a feature in

The New York Times - by placing a billboard outside Morgan Stanley’s

headquarters in Manhattan encouraging its employees to ’bitch about your

boss.’ According to Forbes, the stunt boosted site traffic 100% to five

million page views a month.



And then there’s Half.com. I’d never have known that it’s actually quite

a good place to buy and sell used books, CDs, movies and computer games

if the owners had not managed to persuade the citizens of sleepy

Halfway, OR, to rename their town after the Internet start-up. Half.com

the town gets 20 computers for Halfway Elementary School, a prize to be

raffled at the county fair and funds for civic improvement efforts. It

also gets to be noticed by the rest of America, live on NBC’s Today

show. Local businesses, from the Hells Canyon Bison Ranch to Stutzman

Hells Canyon Custom Rods, can look forward to quite a good summer, as

tourists will no doubt want to feast their eyes (and unload their

wallets) upon the first dot-com-munity.



Half.com the company got more on-air minutes and column inches than it

could have bought straight-out in CEO Joshua Kopelman’s wildest IPO

treasure-trove dreams, everywhere from CNN and The Wall Street Journal

to USA Today, Good Morning America and The New York Times. ’Did we do

this to get attention?



Sure we did,’ Kopelman said. ’But there’s also a benefit to the town

economy.’ No doubt, but the people of Halfway are probably kicking

themselves that they didn’t ask for more computers, a couple of

high-speed T1 lines and a chunk of equity in Half.com.



And just as dot-com companies are falling over themselves to break the

bank on the Super Bowl (PRWeek, Jan. 24, 2000), so we will probably see

a few other places changing or modifying their names as dot-com fever

grips their communities.



Of course, it will be a bit more expensive next time around, as city

leaders realize the value of what they have to offer and pitch the idea

up and down Silicon Valley. They may also have to come up with something

a little more original than simply adding ’.com’ to the name of some

speck on the map.



In case you didn’t know, there are 11 towns in America called Commerce:

one each in Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri,

Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. And let’s not forget

Commerce City in Colorado.



Any bets on which one of them will be the first to change their name to

e-Commerce?



And perhaps the idea can go even further, if you’re prepared to think a

little laterally. PRWeek will send a bottle of champagne (we choose the

brand) to the first person to tell us of the first (verifiable) case of

a newborn child with a name ending in ’.com.’





Stovin Hayter is editor in chief of Revolution, scheduled to launch in

the US this March. Contact Stovin at

stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com



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