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It's Not Just a Breath Mint, It's a Web Portal. Internet Marketing Secret: E-Commerce in for Success

Posted 01-12-99

Fortune Magazine
By Page 40
Non-Xena graphic

In an article about marketing "Web Fuel", a mint geared towards the internet, IAXS and WHOOSH are mentioned in passing as a recommended website by WebFuel.


"I don't think the Internet is going to change how people are
going to chew gum," Warren Buffett declared recently (FORTUNE,
July 20). Yes, but can it change the way they suck mints? Two
New York entrepreneurs think so: Donna Slavitt and Amy Katz of
World Packaging have created Web Fuel--very likely the first
breath mint of the World Wide Web.
"The Internet was such an intangible, you know?" says Slavitt;
the partners intended their product to "give somebody something
fun to touch and feel and also make it a little less frightening
when they first venture out on the Web." The tins, shaped like
computer mice, contain lists of recommended URLs--everything
from the Kelley Blue Book online to Whoosh!, the journal of the
International Association of Xena Studies. Slavitt and Katz
choose the sites, along with customers who visit their site
(www.webfuel.com) and submit favorite URLs in order to win
Web Fuel aims to synergize two trends, Internet use and "intense
mints," the booming, near-pain-inducing candy category pioneered
by Altoids. According to the National Confectioners Association,
the breath-fresheners category grew 13% over the year ended
spring 1998, compared with 2.3% for all candy and gum. Web Fuel
is riding that trend, as are newcomers like the religion-themed
Testamints. But Web Fuel may have an edge over the Lord's
lozenge: Its makers cite research by the Leo Burnett Agency that
lists computer use as the top common characteristic of mint
In addition to being a handy marketing hook, the Web theme is
also a source of revenue, thanks to a verity of e-business: Once
Web companies catch wind of a Website list, they'll try to buy
their way on. Rather than "compromise the integrity of the cool
site list," Web Fuel sells "in-tin advertising": Ads inside the
lids for sites like Amazon.com and CDNow provide 10% to 15% of
Web Fuel's revenue, Slavitt says.
Slavitt grants that "some hard-core Internet users will say,
'Why buy that? It's only a list of Websites. You can get that
anywhere.'" But it's done surprisingly well among older
shoppers--"Fifty-year-old women saying...'I'm not really sure
about the Internet, but this is something cool, and maybe I can
learn how to get there.'"
The 1.41-oz tins carry a suggested retail price of $ 2.95,
pricier than some competitors', but Slavitt hopes the added
surfing value makes them worth it. And is that so different from
the hope of any Internet venture today? Consider what Web Fuel
really offers: a guide to the Web; a dedicated online community
of repeat site visitors; targeted new-media
advertising--essentially, this little tin is a low-tech Web
portal. Just as with the Web-guide sites like Snap, Excite, and
Lycos, the end users of Web Fuel want a fun introduction to the
Internet's welter of information. Plus fresh, fresh breath. If
Yahoo can have an $ 8 billion market cap, what's three bucks for
a site-selecting tin of antigarlic?
Indeed, Web Fuel is a potent reminder that Internet businesses
are collecting more money satisfying surfers' elemental wants
(e.g., investment tips and porno) than their futuristic ones.
People may or may not want push technology or intelligent
shopping agents. But they sure want candy. And like many Web
entrepreneurs, Slavitt and Katz have learned the importance of
making a product palatable to a mass audience, concocting their
mint to be just a touch sweeter than some of the tonsil blasters
on the market: "Strong, but not something that you'd spit out."
Could Bill Gates have any greater hope for Microsoft Start?     
JAMES PONIEWOZIK writes about media and culture for Salon, an
online magazine.

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