A Webstop for Webspots

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Peter Beckman roared with laughter when he saw the fur explode off a sneezing big-haired cat in a Bissell vacuum cleaner commercial. The gut-busting experience led the ISP technical manager, a resident of Falls Church, Va., to the Web, to see what other entertaining spots were out there. He found no reliable source - so he decided to create one himself.

In January 1999, the twentysomething Beckman launched AdCritic.com, a site that allows anyone to view and e-mail the latest buzzworthy commercials, spoofs, and specs. AdCritic has become a regular Webstop for both pop culture fans and industry folks who want to see which spots have people talking.

"You get all those great commercials without the annoying television shows," says Christoph Franzgrote, a New York violinist who frequents the site several times a week, just for kicks. For creatives at DDB/Chicago, home of the Budweiser "Whassup?" campaign, AdCritic also commands a regular visit. The DDB spots and their takeoffs have ranked consistently in the site's daily Top 10 list. Vinny Warren, the campaign's copywriter/associate creative director, quips, "It's like my Nasdaq."

Daniel Serra, a former brands director for Coca-Cola, South America, and now a VP-marketing at a dot-com, uses the site in his presentations and visits it when he reads about a new commercial in the trades. When he was at Coke, his U.S. agency, Saatchi & Saatchi/San Francisco, directed him to AdCritic to see the new Bud campaign. "I spent three hours surfing the site," he says. "My first impression was that I spent my last 10 years waiting 10 days to see a commercial I wanted to see. Now, I could see it in two minutes."

What started out as Beckman's hobby turned out to be a serious, money-making gig. In May, he quit his full-time job at the ISP to devote more time to his role as the site's CEO. "I was working two full-time jobs," he says. "Now, I'm still working two full-time jobs." He makes days of up to 15 hours, leading a full-time staff of 10. Although the site is still in development, Beckman hopes to grow it into an "advertising industry portal." He's expanded the hub with subsites called Political.AdCritic.com and Industry.-Adcritic.com, which will offer news, a more comprehensive collection of commercials and full credits. When it launched, the site archived about 100 commercials. Today, it has more than 1,100.

This year, AdCritic experienced literal overnight success. On the day before Super Bowl 34, Beckman says he registered 30,000 to 40,000 hits. The Monday after the big game and its commercials bonanza, the hits jumped to more than a quarter million. Currently, Beckman says it averages a per diem of about 500,000 to 700,000. By looking at visitors' domain names, Beckman can confirm that at least 10-15 percent of his audience is from within the ad industry itself.

Beckman used to collect funny ads and put them on the site himself. Now, he gets "tons of agency submissions every day." To post a spot costs $109. About 70 ad agencies and production companies make up his current customer base. Which spots get on the site? Not all of them, says Beckman. "The real criterion is, `Is this the kind of commercial someone would want to see again?' " But barring spots containing "vulgar profanity" and those that are "just terrible," most of the submissions, about 95 percent, make it.

Beckman says he also gets work from newbie directors who want to show off their specs. The site proved a boon to Karl Larsen and James Doh, a fledgling producer/director pair that created industry waves after posting their Apple "Espionage" spec on the site (see Creativity's The Buzz, June 2000). Hoping to get noticed by an agency or a production company, they shopped their reel around at the same time they put their work on the Web. Says Doh, "We definitely got more attention from being on AdCritic. It's a good way to bypass the middleman."

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