Tiny Startup Challenges ITunes With Ad Campaign

DoubleTwist Makes Its Mark on Mass Transit in New York, San Francisco

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Microsoft's not the only marketer whose advertising has Apple in its crosshairs. A tiny upstart gunning for Apple's iTunes has started going after the brand.

DoubleTwist makes software for syncing music and videos between PCs and handsets, enabling users to create multimedia libraries on their handhelds the way iTunes does for iPhones and iPods. It's in the throes of a campaign to drive downloads for the beta version of its software, and some of the in-house-designed ads take aim at Apple.

TAKE THAT, APPLE: A Bay Area ad.
TAKE THAT, APPLE: A Bay Area ad.
In Manhattan, DoubleTwist ads are plastered on city buses, inviting consumers to try the "cure for iPhone envy. Your iTunes Library on any device. In seconds." In the Bay Area, ads posted inside subway trains tease: "Transform your phone. Your music and videos on any device in seconds." 

"These people are sitting on the train and using their phones -- it's a good fit," said DoubleTwist CEO and co-founder Monique Farantzos, who looks after the company's marketing. DoubleTwist is positioning itself as the antithesis of Apple's walled garden: It wants its software to work on any device, and already supports hundreds of them, including gaming handhelds, such as the Sony PSP, and BlackBerry smartphones.

"Our goal is to turn all the hundreds of millions of devices out there into an iPod," Ms. Farantzos said. The math is certainly on her side: Cellphone users number about 4 billion globally; in contrast, some 170 million iPods had been sold worldwide at the end of September 2008.

Ready for primetime?
DoubleTwist's other co-founder, Jon Lech Johansen, is no stranger to taking on Apple. He the giant's digital-rights-management technology, and earned the alias "DVD Jon" for cracking DVD copy protection in his teens. Funding the start-up are Asian and European venture firms and former Hollywood talent agent Michael Ovitz.

That DoubleTwist is launching an ad campaign to drive downloads for a product that's not fully baked is curious. Software makers usually drive beta testing through word-of-mouth and prefer to work out the kinks before hitting a mainstream audience. But Ms. Franatzos said the software is mature enough for the mass market, since "hundreds of thousands" of people are already using it.

While Apple hasn't come after DoubleTwist directly, analysts say the computer giant can easily block third-party devices and software from syncing with its products. IPhone's latest software breaks compatibility with DoubleTwist, so the latter is quickly making tweaks to support the device. Ms. Farantzos said there's also nothing Apple can do to derail DoubleTwist's support of non-Apple devices.

It remains to be seen whether DoubleTwist's latest promotion can spawn returns similar to those generated by its short-lived inaugural campaign in June, launched days ahead of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. It placed its "cure for iPhone envy" billboard in a space owned by Bay Area Rapid Transit just a few feet from Apple's San Francisco flagship store. The $25,000, three-month billboard lease lasted just two days, was taken down twice and replaced once. No matter: The days following saw a 10-fold jump in downloads and a sustained increase in DoubleTwist's website traffic. 

"We're outside of conventional marketing," said Ms. Farantzos, who promised more marketing pushes in September. "We like things that are viral and stepping on the bigger guys' toes."

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