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The Big News: Day two of Web Attack!
by Ryan Monceaux, Editor In Chief

NEW YORK - After a lively night of entertainment by 6'7" drag queen/talk show host/singer RuPaul, Web Attack! awoke slowly on Friday morning with a supremely undistinguished discussion regarding branding online. "To Brand or Not To Brand?" did not live up to Thursday's stellar content, but was unfortunately the best session of the morning. The session lacked new ideas but did seem to reinforce traditional themes common to online marketers, especially those who follow the Online Ads Discussion List.

Paco Vinoly of Lot 21 began the refresher course with his definition of online branding and by listing several misconceptions associated with the term. Whereas traditional offline branding conveys a passive voice, Vinoly said, the digital space is much more active and allows the user to create his own experience with a product or service.

Vinoly also listed a number of misconceptions that the uninitiated consider branding but those "in the know" would deem otherwise. Placing a company's logo in a banner ad, while useful, is not exactly branding. Vinoly explained that too many marketers come to him asking to begin an online branding campaign by placing banners with their corporate logo. A branding campaign takes more, he said, then just having a corporate status symbol or by making it larger in banner. A true branding campaign involves what your brand does, not what it says. Traditional advertising is a "talker" but your brand is the "doer."

Laurie Coots, Chief Marketing Officer of Pets.com, talked about the three month window that Pets.com had to make the site work in the $23 billion a year pet supplies industry. Coots said that Pets.com had three months to get their "paw in the door" alongside industry leaders Petsmart and Petco, who combine to own 60 percent of the market share. The higher-ups at Pets.com figured that if they could not make significant advances in the market in three months, the venture would need to be abandoned to protect the company's investors.

With only three months, a traditional company would have forgone a branding campaign and gone straight to an attempt to drive traffic. However, Pets.com wanted to change the entrenched behavior of leaving your house to buy pet supplies and to pre-empt the competition - something they felt they could only do by branding Pets.com as the leader in the online market. In the words of Coots, Pets.com's advertising had to become "an attribute of the brand" and had to develop it's own personality. The company was going to try to build a brand instead of buying one.

Enter the Pets.com sock puppet, the preeminent SpokesSock in the world. This one sock became the main reason that the company was able to become a leader in the marketplace. According to Coots, the sock puppet embodies the Pets.com brand, as it speaks to all pets, not just cats and dogs. Most importantly, in terms of marketing and branding, the Pets.com name and the sock puppet infiltrated popular culture through television and online branding - including the company's first-ever Super Bowl spot. That Super Bowl spot was voted the best dot com commercial of the past year by the attendees of Web Attack!

"To Brand or Not To Brand?" was not exactly the appropriate title for this session. Thankfully, all of the presenters think that branding is a vital part of online marketing success and see their future conquests building on top of the brand they have worked so diligently to create.



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