Whatever Happened to Dot-Com Stunts?

Does anybody remember the DotComGuy? How about IUMA? Or even the e-Cavemen?

Last year, the Net was inundated with publicity stunts and name games aimed at driving Net-weary consumers online.

Have a new Web site to publicize? Sponsor a baby-naming contest, like IUMA.com did, paying new parents a few thousand bucks to name their new son or daughter after a dot-com.

Tired of working 9 to 5? Lock yourself in your house for a year, living solelyoff the Internet and watch the corporate sponsorships roll in — or not — in the fashion of DotComGuy.

It seemed like there would be no end to the creativity and scope of the e-commerce publicity stunts. But take a look throughout the dot-com landscape today and the only stunts you will find are companies managing to survive online with making a profit.

Goodbye To All That

What happened? Were these stunts victims of the overall economic downturn? Or were they inherently flawed? Both, say analysts.

“Public enthusiasm for the more gimmicky aspect of the Internet has gone waydown for obvious reasons,” IDC analyst Malcolm Maclachlan told the E-CommerceTimes. “A lot of people have lost a lot of money. We’re past the point wherejust attaching the word Internet to something makes it cool.”

In addition, most of the dot-com stunts were performed by pure plays, whichare now virtually extinct, said Yankee Group analyst Paul Ritter.

“The era of the dot-com stunt is over and it should be over,” Ritter toldthe E-Commerce Times. “There is a correlation in peoples’ minds that dot-comstunts are associated with dot-com failures. Pure play e-tailersparticularly are a dying breed.”

Too Much, Too Early

Moreover, dot-com stunts were based on what is nowconsidered the taboo of e-commerce: brand advertising overkill.

“The stunts were merely a reflection of the attempts to gain brand exposure,and not about brand building,” said Ritter.

Maclachlan believes that the decline of dot-com stunts is also related to animportant lesson for Internet retailers that took some time to become clear.

“[The Internet] has shown itself to be more gimmick-proof than one-waymediums like TV or radio,” Maclachlan said. “People searching the Net havegreater consumer choice, and something without style or substance consumers are less likely to bother with and it’s less likely to work now.”

Hindsight Helps

But did dot-com publicity stunts work in the first place?

“With 20/20 hindsight, I don’t think they worked,” Ritter said. “As someone who covers the online retail industry for a living, I don’t know what the benefits of the DotComGuy were for any particular company. Even the Pets.com puppet didn’t work.”

Even if they did serve a purpose a year and a half ago, the stunts would serveno real purpose now, said Maclachlan.

“Did they work in beginning? Absolutely,” Maclachlan said. “Any little stunt was probably worthwhile. But they can’t work today because there’s less people trying to launch companies now, and it’s impossible to get financing.”

Try, Try Again?

Of course, that does not mean companies still might not try a stunt or two in the future.

“In many cases it’s not too expensive to try and do these kinds of stunts,which is why in some cases they were done in the first place,” Ritter said.”They probably will be tried again, but I don’t think with any significantor lasting impact.”

As for those who still harbor dreams of becoming the next household Internetname, Maclachlan had the following advice:

“Calling yourself DotComGuy is probably a good way to get beat up on thestreet these days.”

3 Comments

  • One of the VOIP type new companies supposedly was giving away a BMW. About a year ago I’d get emails from this company

    with updates on what they were doing, asking for names/email addresses of people I knew

    who might want to know about their service, etc. NEVER heard who (if anyone) got the BMW

    that was supposed to be given away last April and then they shifted from a consumer-based service to a company out for corporate customers. A big ‘bait and switch’ after

    they touted themselves one way and got tons of publicity as a company focused on being

    a wonderful service to the general population. I can understand shifting their plan if it became clear

    that to make profits they had to change, but WHY did they not have enough respect

    for those who originally helped them test their product and offer names to them to have the decency to

    inform us of who won the car and why they were changing tacks?

    • I heard that Surprise.com got a lot more traffic by paying for search engine optimization than by paying employees to do stunts (like put Surprise.com toilet paper into stalls at industry conferences).

  • interesting that Quixtar.com made over $816 million this last year with no advertising, a 57% increase over the previous year. So dot-com does work, you just got to have the right vehicle!

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