RISE OF A FORTUNE COOKIE ADVERTISING MOGUL

New Marketing Effort Reaches 25% of U.S. Chinese Restaurants

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- In a move that pushes the curious business of fortune cookie advertising to new heights, a Media, Pa., company plans to promote a reality TV
Photo: Focal Point Studios
Mark Hughes, CEO of Buzzmarketing has cornered the market on fortune cookie ads.
contest in a quarter of all fortune cookies distributed at U.S. Chinese restaurants in June.

7 million per week
Buzzmarketing has cornered the market for the 7 million fortune cookies manufactured each week by five fortune-cookie bakers. When diners break open those crunchy confections and extract the tiny paper script, they will see a printed advertisement for "Hollywood Pitch and Win." The contest lets entrants vie to pitch their reality TV concepts to real Hollywood producers. The regular fortune is on one side of the script; the ad on the other.

The client in the deal is 1st Approach, an online message board company headquartered in Dover, N.H., that is using the fortune cookie ad buy to promote the launch of its TVBuzz.com portal about reality TV.

Buzzmarketing CEO Mark Hughes said the reality TV contest is the most ambitious project yet for the new marketing medium, which made its debut in November and also has served up fortune cookie ads for Snapple.

25% of Chinese restaurants
The 38-year-old fortune cookie advertising mogul explained that the ads cost $8 to $13 per thousand and that while he has only 25% of the Chinese restaurants, they are clustered throughout the key coastal media markets. He said he wants to eventually fill in the distribution gaps for the rest of the country.

"It's got to be done tastefully," Mr. Hughes said, so as not offend the 5,000 participating restaurants. He recently rejected an ad proposed for the Papa John's pizza chain with the

message: "Wouldn't you rather have had pizza?"

Mr. Hughes said that each month his fortune campaigns can reach a total of 13 million fortune cookie eaters in the New York metro market, 7 million in the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor, 6 million in the Baltimore-Washington area, 3.5 million in Florida, 3 million in Philadelphia, 3 million throughout New England, 1 million in San Francisco, and 1.7 million in other locations. Some 72% of these cookie consumers are white; 12% are Hispanic and 10% are African American.

Read fortunes aloud
He said fortune readers fall disproportionately in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic and are big consumers of movies, wireless telecom, alcoholic beverages and consumer electronics. Buzzmarketing research shows 96% of people read their fortunes, and 67% of people read them aloud to their eating companions.

Mr. Hughes, former vice president for marketing of Half.com before it was sold to eBay in 2001, is perhaps best known for persuading the town of Halfway, Ore., to change its name to Half.com, Ore. For an outlay of $100,000, the stunt generated $4 million in publicity, he said. Only 19 days later, Half.com got a call from eBay, leading to a $300 million buyout five months later.

In an age of dot-com profligacy, Mr. Hughes said he was always a thrifty marketer. He's hoping to turn fortune cookie advertising, which he first tried at Half.com, into a major money maker.

Drive diners to Web site
Client 1st Approach intends to use its round of fortune cookie advertising to drive Chinese restaurant customers to TVBuzz.com, which it hopes will become a central portal for online message boards about reality TV programming, said Jeff Greenfield, the Web site's executive vice president.

Mr. Greenfield is counting on instant Internet chatter when 30 million diners crack open their cookies next month. "I bet every person has one or more great [reality TV] ideas rolling around in their heads," Mr. Greenfield said.

He said he came up with the idea for the contest when dining with some heavyset friends who told him they couldn't relate to Fox's The Bachelorette, but would like a dating reality series centered on heavier people.

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