WEEKLY WEB WATCH: How to turn a PR nightmare into a dot-com’s dream come true

Welcome to the world of edgy dot-com advertising. Watch enthralled as self-styled computer expert Jay uses a handgun to make a point-by-point assessment of the Apple iMac - or should that be bullet-by-bullet? The ad is perfect for Epinions.com, which has built an online community around people offering their reviews of products and services they’ve bought.

Welcome to the world of edgy dot-com advertising. Watch enthralled as self-styled computer expert Jay uses a handgun to make a point-by-point assessment of the Apple iMac - or should that be bullet-by-bullet? The ad is perfect for Epinions.com, which has built an online community around people offering their reviews of products and services they’ve bought.

Welcome to the world of edgy dot-com advertising. Watch enthralled

as self-styled computer expert Jay uses a handgun to make a

point-by-point assessment of the Apple iMac - or should that be

bullet-by-bullet? The ad is perfect for Epinions.com, which has built an

online community around people offering their reviews of products and

services they’ve bought.



Jay got to star in the ad because of his original Epinions written

review of the iMac (entitled ’Macintosh’s dying breath’), as did a bunch

of other Epinions reviewers in the series of ads that started airing

March 13.



The ad is certainly edgy. It certainly gets your attention. And if you,

like me, you agree with Jay’s views on the iMac, then you want to

rejoice that someone is at last saying what needs to be said.



There’s just one thing. Jay is young. He’s got attitude. Some people

might see him as quite cool. And he’s got a handgun. One that makes bits

of iMac fly off in a very satisfying way.



In the old days, the handgun would probably never even have reached the

storyboard. And after Columbine and half a dozen other school shootings,

it proved too much even for someone like Epinions to put on

television.



So what’s a dot-com advertiser to do? Just pull it and go with the other

ads? After all, there’s still the one featuring a young mother called

Jen demonstrating the Medela Mini Electric Breast Pump (very convenient

for use in the car).



No way! What Epinions did was, well, the obvious really. It put the iMac

ad on its Web site and subjected it to review by its own online

community.



People were asked to vote on whether the ad should run on TV or not: 39%

said yes, 56% said no (with five percent not caring either way). As a

result, you won’t see the iMac ad on TV any time soon.



But guess what? It served its purpose. It got Epinions.com as much

consumer attention as it would have had it simply run the ad. And the

attention it got has been a lot more favorable than it would have been

had it been allowed to outrage the entire nation. The Epinions ad

campaign is not about advertising at all - it’s about PR.



And Epinions manages to pull off the trick of having its cake and eating

it, too. It makes the ad, but instead of outraging the nation, it can

hold up the specter of the nation being outraged. Epinions gets to

appear responsible and sensitive to the views of its community. It can

practice what it preaches about subjecting consumer products and

services to the honest views of ordinary consumers. (Epinions, by the

way, is the sort of site that PR professionals these days cannot afford

to ignore.)



The reviews of the ad are about as indicative as any of the vehement

views expressed on Epinions. There are the predictable ones about guns

and responsibility. There are the declarations of fatwa by rabid Apple

fans. And there are others who manage to get in the odd low blow, such

as ’This redneck needs to lose some weight.’



It’s entertaining, and it’s exactly what Epinions is all about.



After a performance like that, Epinions doesn’t even need to spend

millions on TV time for the other ads in the series - just run them a

few token times and let the story unfold.



And anybody who wants the thrill of seeing bits being shot off an iMac

can still go to the Web site



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