Now, just over a decade later, they're firing up marketing on the Internet for companies like Sony Electronics, MCI Communications Corp., Foote, Cone & Belding and Leo Burnett Co.
Close friends and penpals since those campfire days, Brit Peter Bray, 22, and New Yorker Michael Bratter, 24, saw the marketing potential for the Internet long before many others. Early last year, the two formed Internet Marketing Inc., a Portland, Ore. company that has become well-known for its creative work in an industry where Internet developers are fast becoming a dime a dozen.
"Your average Web presence offers viewers a few static pages, much like a magazine advertisement," said Mr. Bray, a graduate of Reed College in Portland with a degree in marketing psychology. "The notion of an online magazine is a misnomer. You can't judge Internet presence in terms of home pages; it just doesn't make sense."
Called a "garage band developer of online services" by one agency that has worked with it, Internet Marketing Inc. created World Wide Web sites for Sony Music bands Black Sabbath and Ned's Atomic Dustbin. The sites, which can be accessed at http://www.sony.com, include trivia contests, discussion areas, musician profiles and interviews and album clips. The company is also developing Internet programs for Sony Film and Sony Interactive.
"They're young, aggressive, tenacious and have an acute understanding of the medium," said Mark Ghuneim, VP-video promotion at Sony Music division Columbia Records. "Black Sabbath was created with a limited budget, but their creativity spilled through regardless of price."
Web site development, construction and maintenance can cost anywhere from $10,000 to more than $200,000.
Internet Marketing Inc. also is producing online promotions for a client of Margeotes Fertitta & Weiss, New York. Other projects include building Internet architecture for Miller Freeman Publishing and internetMCI; online research for Burnett and consulting work for agencies Bates USA and Wunderman Cato Johnson.
Last week, Internet Marketing Inc. pitched Levi Strauss (and agency FCB) to sponsor an online application that would "bridge the gap between cyberspace and the real world," said Mr. Bratter.
The principals have diverse backgrounds. Mr. Bratter studied film at Vassar College and worked in production at Tarlow Advertising and in marketing at MTV. Mr. Bray has been online for more than 10 years; before the Web became widely known, he created software to analyze Internet newsgroups' marketing potential.
Galen Huntington, 23, director of software development, learned complex computer coding when he was eight years old, has developed his own transaction encryption standard and is the type to "laugh at math equations."
With nine employees and revenue nearing seven figures, Internet Marketing Inc. is moving to bigger offices in Portland and considering opening a second office in San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch.
"There are a bunch of marketing people that look at protocols on the World Wide Web, and then there are people like Peter who have grown up using the Internet and are familiar with the demographics and style," said Geoff Katz, director of interactive production at Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco. "He has a different perspective that flies in the face of what conventional marketers might think the 'net is for."
Said Mr. Bray, "Average users don't want to read copy or look at fancy graphics. They want to communicate. Sites that do not let users at least steer the direction of information are inappropriate ... they're boring, dry and passe."
Internet Marketing Inc.'s site (http://cybersight.com) allows users to chat, post art on a "Graffiti Wall" and play games.
Internet Marketing Inc. also is involved in the development of a major project-sponsored by companies including Intel Corp., GTE, Nike, U S West, and Tele-Communications Inc.-that will allow users to explore the city of Portland via computer.