Click to Start – Lights, Camera, Action

I’m constantly asked about using the Internet as a marketing tool: there’s no question people think the Nets’ multimedia capability is the greatest thing since pre-packed boiled rice when it comes to communicating with customers, but remarkably few seem to find a way to turn it to their advantage consistently.

There’s a constant stream of marketing materials walking through my Internet gateway, and I often use them in training seminars and workshops – usually as a way of opening eyes to their potential, rather than simply providing examples for replication. The bottom line is that marketing on the Net is like any other marketing, it plays by the same fundamental rules. Ignore anyone who uses the words ‘new paradigm’ in the same sentence as ‘online marketing’. Most of Australia’s major advertising agencies experimented with establishing separate ‘funky’ online marketing businesses, and not surprisingly, after spending large amounts of investors’ money, most have fallen by the wayside.

Marketing is marketing is marketing. The Net is nothing new. You need clear, simple communication, which ‘cuts through the noise’, so people take notice. You need to put in front of people messages they can understand, and which will entice them to take action.

In response to some recent requests, here are some of my favourite online stories, which in one way or another fall under the ‘marketing’ banner. They range from the stratospherically expensive to the completely free. This is not supposed to be a definitive list by any criteria, they are simply examples I have continued to enjoy long after the initial discovery.

Stratospherically Expensive

BMW Films ($US9 million)

You have to give the car marker BMW credit: when they decide to do something, they include all the bells and whistles, and deploy a budget equivalent to the GDP of a small country – and that’s just to design the cup-holders in one of their very expensive motor vehicles. BMW is great at selling tin boxes on wheels, and there’s no better example than when they decided to go into film production as a brand awareness exercise.

In 2001, BMW launched The Hire, a series of short films showcasing some of the world’s top film makers. Each of the films features a professional driver (appropriately named ‘The Driver’) who specialises in high-risk trips – from transporting a rock star (played by Madonna in a film directed by Guy Ritchie) to delivering a load of stolen diamonds. Coincidentally, each film rapidly degenerates into a car chase, with ‘The Driver’ piloting… wait for it… a BMW. Actors appearing include the aforementioned Madonna along with Mickey Rourke and Forrest Whitaker. The directors include Ritchie, Ang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) Lee, John (Ronin) Frankenheimer, Wong (Happy Together) Kar-Wai and David (Fight Club) Fincher.

BMW put up a reputed $US9 million to produce the five films.

John West Salmon (£1 million)

It’s hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t seen this cult video, distributed via email around the world from one friend to another since its launch in December 2000. It’s a commercial for John West’s tinned salmon, produced at a cost of £1 million.

Using the magic of special effects (with help from Jim ‘Muppet’ Henson’s company), the ad shows a John West fisherman engaging a large, and very angry, grizzly bear in fisticuffs, culminating in the fisherman kneeing the bear in the groin and running off with the fish the bear had previously caught. The message is easy – John West will do anything to get their hands on the best quality fish, even if they have to box a bear.

You can watch the ad, using Real Video (yes, you’ll need the Real Player) from our server by clicking HERE

TheBasement ($A1.6 million)

When Telstra was looking for a way to sell its customers on the merits of broadband Internet (irrespective of its unreliability), they decided to back Doug Mulray, wild-child Sydney radio host and holder of the dubious honour of hosting the only Australian television show cancelled while it was actually on air (hands up those who remember Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos?).

TheBasement launched in November 2000 with a $1.6 million helping hand from Telstra. It’s just like any other radio station – it features music, interviews and DJs, including Mulray himself. But the station takes advantage of its broadband Internet presence to create a highly interactive relationship with its audience, and to extend its offering beyond that of a normal radio station. Telstra has sweetened the pie by making TheBasement an ‘unmetered stream’ – it’s not included in the monthly data-limit for Telstra broadband subscribers.

You can watch the DJs at work in the studio, see the music videos for the songs being played, and enjoy concerts broadcast from the adjacent Basement music venue in Sydney. As one computer magazine puts it: “It’s like old-school MTV meets somebody’s cubicle web cam.”

TheBasement claims to earn revenue from activities such as advertising, leasing its additional studio space and selling CDs and DVDs of artists who perform in the nightclub. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Telstra’s largesse expires, but there’s no doubt TheBasement is probably the most effective, practical way to illustrate the benefits of broadband (and preferably Telstra’s offering) to a key target audience.

An honourable mention should also go to the suite of sites produced by Beyond Online, including the arts and cultural site I’d write more about it, except that, unlike TheBasement, which is available to anyone, and its compatriots are only accessible by people connecting via Telstra’s broadband service – which, here at The Dramatic Group we don’t (if you’re wondering, we use an SHDSL connection from requestDSL).

Completely Free

Thunder Stars Talent Showcase (Nil)

A little while ago I invested the princely sum of $109 and bought a web cam from Harvey Norman. It’s a small video camera which perches on top of my computer monitor, pointing at my face, and designed for video conferencing. The excuse was so I could talk with friends and family overseas without running up enormous telephone bills. Combined with my computer’s speakers, and a microphone, I can chat with anyone on the Net with the same set up.

The quality ain’t Academy Award-winning, but it is surprisingly good for the financial outlay. Just to satisfy my ego, here’s what a snapshot looks like:

It’s one of those toys which you buy, then try and find a use for. In the process, I ran across PalTalk, a web site established to allow people to talk to each other with audio, and in many cases, video. Essentially, PalTalk runs a huge number of online discussion forums, which you can participate in using text, audio and video. As with public discussions anywhere on the Net, the breadth of topics is breathtaking.

Be warned, PalTalk hosts a considerable number of forums devoted to the Internet’s favourite subject – sex, which explains the exhortations to ‘keep your clothes on’ when you enter some forums. But there’s a surprising number of discussion areas for all sorts of mundane themes – including one devoted to Australian country music.

And the concept has been extended further, by establishing forums which occur at scheduled times – essentially programs broadcast to a published schedule. My favourite is ‘Thunder Stars Talent Showcase’, broadcast each week on a Tuesday evening (US time). As the promotion says: ‘If you’re a singer, musician, or songwriter… THIS IS THE PLACE FOR YOU!’

The showcase is essentially open-mic night, where anyone with ‘talent’ can get up and perform, in the hope talent agents and scouts are also watching. It’s free, fun and rivetingly bad on many occasions, but strangely fascinating (no, nothing like Celebrity Big Brother).


What’s Wrong With This Picture? (Nil)

This is an instructive exercise in how to get six million page views a month to your web site, when you don’t even really have a web site. (Six million page views a month for any Australian web site would place it in the top ranking sites).

A while ago an Illinois-based computer programmer named Jaybill McCarthy created a silly photographic puzzle and sent it to some friends. He woke up one morning to find his web site handling 5,000 page views an hour (which wound up causing some friction between him and his web host).

He took advantage of the popularity the puzzle had created by establishing a web site with various forums and other features. As Jay explains on his site: “In my delusions of grandeur, I like to think I’ve invented a new model for web sites: traffic == community == content. The community is the content.”

In April 2002, the site had racked up more than 3.6 million unique visitors.

Click this link for the puzzle:, and to see how one extraordinarily simple idea can turn your web site into a phenomenon.