*Anti-Impeachment Group Finds Success in Viral Marketing

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Creators of the buzz phrase "viral marketing" don't know jack about it compared to two people who inadvertently put the Internet community's newfangled term for word-of-mouth advertising to work and received millions of dollars in pledges without even trying.


Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, who helped develop the popular game series You Don't Know Jack, launched a Web site, built a database of 470,000 people and raised $12.7 million in pledges without conducting any major marketing campaign. It all started last fall when the Silicon Valley, CA, couple launched the Censure and Move On Web site (www.moveon.org) to let people contact their legislators and voice objections to President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial.


"When popular opinion over an issue is disconnected outside of the Beltway, we need to do everything we can to communicate with our representatives," Blades said. "This is a situation where we have all been well informed and our opinion should count."


The day before the site debuted, they sent 100-150 e-mails to family members and friends and asked everyone to forward the message to others. On the first day, more than 350 people visited the site and signed the Censure and Move On petition. After the second day, more than 1,500 names were on the petition -- and by the fourth day, more than 23,000 people had signed it. By the time the House voted to impeach Clinton, more than 450,000 people had signed the petition.


"There have been a number of people, who didn't even vote for Clinton, contacting us and making pledges," Blades said. "These are people who are worried about what this whole situation is going to do to the office of the presidency."


When people sign the petition, they are asked to provide their ZIP codes and e-mail addresses. Using those ZIP codes, Blades and Boyd forwarded copies of the petition to legislators in those areas. They also compiled a database of 470,000 e-mail addresses, and they regularly e-mail updates on the trial's proceedings. The group has organized rallies as well, including one last week in Bellevue, WA, the same day Clinton gave his State of the Union address.


Immediately after last month's House vote to impeach Clinton, Blades and Boyd began a pledge drive and e-mailed everyone in the database to make a "We will remember" pledge to be donated to the campaign of a candidate who either voted against impeachment or for censure in the next election. Pledges also could be donated to the campaigns of first-time candidates running against incumbents who voted against the wishes of his constituents.


"In the first 24 hours, we saw $5 million in pledges returned," Blades said. "We were shocked at the response because we didn't go out and bang on anybody's door."


To date, $12.7 million have been pledged, and Blades said she was told that most pledge drives collect close to 95 percent of the pledges made, adding, "I don't see why this pledge drive should be different from any other."


The growth of the e-mail database and amount pledged may make most marketers salivate.


"The volume that they have generated at this point is unheard of compared to any other thing out there right now," said Rob Arena, senior vice president of Internet services at Hockaday Donatelli/Campaign Solutions, an organization specializing in helping political candidates and nonprofit organizations raise donations online.


Arena said moveon.org deserves credit for proving the Internet can generate a large amount of interest in a grass-roots issue, but he's curious to see how many of those pledges actually get collected.


"Will they be able to turn these people into donors when the time comes to collect?" he asked. "There is a difference between someone who says they are going to donate $15,000 at one minute because he is upset people are attacking the president and someone who is going to donate that money when the time comes to pay it."


On the other side of the Clinton debate is a site launched in 1997 calling for his impeachment (http://impeachclinton.org), run by the Clinton Investigative Commission, Sterling, VA.


"The day after [independent counsel Kenneth] Starr's report came out, we got about 220,000 hits, our largest amount for one day," said executive director Scott Lauf. "Since then we have seen an average of about 50,000 visitors a day."


In the past four weeks, 30,000 people have signed the impeach Clinton petition, he said.


Pledges to moveon.org have ranged from $25 to $20,000, with the average being about $600, Blades said. Those who make pledges are asked to give their names, addresses, cities, states, ZIP codes and e-mail addresses. The Web site also lets people know that the pledges they make are a moral commitment -- not a legal one -- and that moveon.org itself accepts no donations.


Blades and Boyd founded the software company Berkeley Systems, which developed the computer game You Don't Know Jack. They sold the company about a year ago and have since been working on educational software.
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