By Page 40
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 T-shirts. 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 consumers. 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.
Click here to return to the WHOOSH! IN THE NEWS page.