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07/13/01 - Easy COM, Easy Go

It's old news that the dog fight between the Pets.com sock puppet and Triumph The Insult Comic Dog ended abruptly with the sockhound's e-marketer master dying in a pool of venture capital.

However, reality continues to chew up and spit out other online-trepeneurs on a daily basis. Just take a walk through the graveyard at Steve Baldwin's Ghostsites, "the museum of e-failure."

Most recently, Webvan, fueled with around a billion dollars in investments, crashed and burned (you can almost smell the charred groceries).

The dot-com demolition derby brings to mind a quote by legendary adman Bill Bernbach, who said, "A great campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it's bad."

Well, in the case of Webvan, did they have a "great" campaign? Actually, within their two years of existence, they had several campaigns and logos. Hardly the best way to build a focused brand image.

When it got rolling in June 1999, Webvan's logo was a giant computer arrow that appeared on the rear doors of its trucks. The initial advertising (radio, print and outdoor) was tagged "The world's market at your door step."

A few months later, Webvan changed agencies and got into broadcast. The debut spot took a corporate, introductory approach with a city being invaded by choreographed vans and dancing delivery men.

The second stage of the TV campaign took a nasty, anti-grocery store position. One spot portrayed unsanitary supermarkets, with customers dropping, biting and even putting dogs on fresh fruits.

The tagline became: "Same groceries, no store. Webvan: You may never go to the store again." And a grocery bag was now the logo.

Later, the gross humorous tone was maintained in spots that emphasized anywhere, on-time convenience. A heavily run spot showed toilet paper being delivered to needy hikers in the middle of a forest.

With irrelevant advertising like this, it's easy to see why Webvan failed to attract many happy campers.

Running on empty, Webvan switched gears again early this year. Seeking to expand beyond its grocery "heritage" (18 months is a heritage?), the tagline became "Do what you want. We'll deliver what you need. Webvan."

They sacked the grocery bag logo for a noncommittal set of blue and green initials. Great news for truck painters.

The final TV campaign reflects the conflicted nature of Webvan executives at the time. It depicted people "making their wants and needs known in inappropriate places." Sort of Tourette's syndrome lite.

For example, a mom tells her kids she wants to take kickboxing lessons but needs double-A batteries. Huh? I've seen these spots, and believe me, they're just as confusing to watch as they are to describe. Might be good for a schizophrenia medication, though.

That said, it's unlikely the greatest ad campaign in the world would have saved Webvan from wiping out. Though it's debatable whether it would've fit Bill Bernbach's definition of a "bad" product, it most certainly was an unwanted one.