AmEx film frenzy up, up and away

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The Jerry Seinfeld/Superman Web movie from American Express Co. is on its way to becoming the latest online-ad phenomenon. American Express' "Web-isode," launched March 29, garnered 1.1 million unique visitors in its first two weeks, according to the company.

Greg Stuart, CEO of the New York-based Interactive Advertising Bureau, said of the traffic figure, "It is phenomenal. An advertiser who is using the Internet to drive everyone on to the Internet. Finally someone gets it." He said any advertiser on TV would be glad to have those kind of numbers. "For 1 million people who went out of their way to watch a five-minute video online, that speaks for itself. I don't think we've had that kind of repeat viewing since TiVo gave out details of how many people watched Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction."

Behind the high Web traffic is a novel marketing strategy, which began with a simple, old-fashioned public relations blitz. American Express drafted Interpublic Group of Cos. PR agency Bragman Nyman Cafarelli to help organize a press conference with the comedian. That garnered coverage for the Web movie on TV shows "Extra," "Access Hollywood," cable entertainment network E! and cable news networks including CNN and CNBC. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and the International Herald Tribune also ran stories. Then American Express and its ad agency, WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, helped produce a segment on NBC's "Today" during which Matt Lauer interviewed Mr. Seinfeld and an animated Superman.

`Daily Planet'

A few days later, Mr. Seinfeld appeared on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" to discuss the project and reveal that the Web movie had up until then attracted some 500,000 visitors. Five- to 10-second teaser TV ads also appeared. (WPP's MindShare is American Express' media agency.) Grassroots marketing consisted of wrapping copies of newspapers in the Daily Planet and giving them away at commuter hubs, while guerrilla teams gave out Superman postcards in high-traffic areas of New York such as Times Square.

Richard Quigley, senior VP-global advertising and brand management, said it wasn't difficult to push the idea through since the company has taken a number of steps in the branded-entertainment field, such as last year's involvement with NBC reality show "The Restaurant," which helped promote Open, a small-business network.

The Seinfeld Web movie, which begins with a virtual view of a make-believe Seinfeld apartment, leads viewers to a DVD-style choice of watching the film, downloading the TV teasers or watching the behind-the-scenes action. The movie ultimately promotes the company's charge cards. When asked how many people had signed up for cards at the site, Mr. Quigley would not give figures but said the company was satisfied with the response.

American Express would not say what it paid Mr. Seinfeld to partner in the venture, though Mr. Quigley described it as "priceless." According to Mr. Seinfeld's publicist, this is the only commercial endorsement with which the comedian is involved. In a statement to Advertising Age, Mr. Seinfeld said: "From the beginning I was never just an `image-for-hire' with American Express. It has always been more of a creative partnership. ... I'm sure it's a very unique relationship in the advertising world."

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