"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 2 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Bizarro World



Marvel Comics creator-turned-


Stan Lee didn't only create such

heroes as Spider-Man and the

Hulk - he also ushered in what

he might refer to as the Mighty

Marvel Age of Marketing. Faced

with a wide product line and a

limited budget for outside

advertising (sound familiar?),

Lee simply stepped back and let

his publications promote one

another. New heroes were

introduced in the pages of

successful books, and less

popular products were bolstered

by the occasional appearances of

more celebrated "guest stars."

If all this sounds a little

far-out, just think how much of

a boost Spiv content would have

gotten from cameo appearances in

Turner's movie classics.


[Big Couuch]

Every South Park sucker with a

dollar and a dream has his own

theory as to why the web has

been slow to live up to its

commercial potential, but it's

clear that what the web really

lacks is an equivalent to the

strange mix of publicity and

payola that keeps the stars

shining (and money multiplying)

in other media. Banner trading

merely shuffles the shallow pool

of surfers from storefront to

storefront, and with advertising

costing what it does, we'd

advise would-be moguls searching

for a promotion paradigm to take

their eyes off those search

engine billboards and put them

back in the four-color funny

books they read as awkward




In an early application of

name-brand marketing, Lee called

the reality his characters

inhabited the "Marvel Universe,"

helping to ensure that any fan

who cared about a particular

hero would take at least a

slight interest in the others.

Weak books were graced by more

popular guest stars ("It's my

old buddy Spider-Man!") and tied

to labyrinthine multititle epics

every few months for an extra

boost. In the balanced scales

which measure disbelief, the

idea that a man could fly was

quickly tipped by the prospect

that the various X-Men could fit

so many extracurricular

appearances into a single

month's worth of Marvels.



Port this seemingly far-fetched

scheme over to the web and it

becomes the perfect way to

promote an underperforming

medium that has had a few

significant successes. If the

c|net site were instead the

c|net Universe, for example,

ever-popular uberpundit John C.

Dvorak would be able to interact

with relative newcomer Douglas

Rushkoff in front of the

company's Lettermanesque studio

cam. Surely his fans would

follow - and at least some of

them would stick around to read

Rushkoff. And why not turn

Universe newbies on to Dvorak's

reviews by using his "Buy it -

Try it - Skip it" rating system

to judge video games and

websites as well?



Remove this idea from

single-company confines and the

possibilities grow ever more

tantalizing. Just as Superman

and Spider-Man took on baddies

in a two-company team-up, so too

could HotWired's Flux columnist

Ned Brainard and the

ever-lovable Spot crew join

forces to vanquish Brainard's

arch-enemy, the evil,

code-swiping c|net. Gossip

mavens get to sample a soap,

Spot devotees learn why c|net

promotes tooth decay, and

everybody's hit count goes up

without spending a nanocent. If

the one-shot proved successful,

a full-fledged Joanie Loves

Chachi-style spinoff site could

feature a pair of media-savvy

Spotsters as Brainard's new cub



Lest all this talk of the web as

virtual Gotham City sound like

the ravings of just another

Joker, remember that such an

interlinking intellectual

property universe will be born

not of Big Bangs but of the

self-referential backscratching

that has always been endemic to

journalism. Character(s) will

count in any medium, as pundits

always point out. And in the

absence of effective, affordable

advertising, why not just hitch

your whole website to its star?

courtesy of Dr. Dreidel