Daily Jokes Make E-Mail Readers Receptive to Marketers' Messages

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Did you hear the one about the e-mail marketer who not only had no fear of being labeled a spammer, he actually got complaints from people who didn't receive his mailings?

His name is Eric Targan, founder of advertiser-supported Joke-Of-The-Day at www.joke-of-the-day.com. Each morning, his company e-mails a joke to 160,000 subscribers. Each joke begins and ends with a sponsor's ad.

"We're certainly not the only joke site on the Web," said Targan, whose official title is jokemaster and chief humor officer, "but we're the only one with a business plan."

Targan projects Joke-Of-The-Day's subscriber base to grow to just over 1 million by year's end, 5 million to 7 million by 2000 and 25 million worldwide on multiple sites within five years. As a result of the growth, Targan said, Joke-Of-The-Day will begin offering marketers demographic targeting within the month.

Seventy-five percent of Joke-Of-The-Day's subscribers are professionals, and 55 percent are male. Two-thirds are single, and two-thirds have no children, "but it's not the same two-thirds, which is kind of interesting," Targan said.

Though it is growing by 1 percent per day, Joke-Of-The-Day rarely buys advertising to get new subscribers, Targan said.

"We're the ultimate automated word-of-mouth system," he said. "When someone likes a joke, they automatically send it to someone else."

In fact, Targan said, during a two-day period where a technical glitch prevented Joke-Of-The-Day subscribers from getting their e-mail, the firm received tens of thousands of complaints.

"You don't want that to happen every day, but it showed us we have an extremely loyal following," Targan said.

To capitalize on the company's growing popularity, Targan plans to merchandise and is close to launching an affinity program, but he declined to give details. He recently signed deals to license Joke-Of-The-Day content to Bell Canada and Sony WebTV. Also, "there are dozens and dozens [of other deals] that will be announced within the next two months."

Joke-Of-The-Day's advertisers have included everything from game retailers to business-to-business software merchants.

"All the jokes are [rated] PG-13, so they're acceptable for national advertisers," he said.

What types of ads work on Joke-Of-The-Day? Free-trial magazine offers are among those that are pulling well, Targan said, adding, "soft offers on the Web are still working better than hard sells." Not surprisingly, ads after the punch line draw twice the response of those placed before the joke.

"It's best if you use both and deliver a one-two punch," he said.

Publisher/direct marketer Atlas Editions Inc., New York, markets Paramount Studios' Star Trek collectors' cards on Joke-Of-The-Day. Lixuan An, director of interactive marketing for $500 million Atlas Editions, said her lead-generation efforts for the Star Trek series garnered a 37 percent conversion rate on Joke-Of-The-Day.

"I have to qualify that by saying it was a very strong offer," she said. Atlas Editions offered Joke-Of-The-Day subscribers a free trial of the series and charged 99 cents postage and handling to weed out freebie hunters. The strength of Paramount Studios' brand also gave the promotion a lift, An said.

Qualifiers aside, she said, "I will advertise on Joke-Of-The-Day as frequently as [Targan] will let me."

Targan said Joke-Of-The-Day's advertising fees are negotiable.

"I'm willing to do performance [per inquiry] based if I think it can work," he said, "but usually it's a combination of a low CPM [cost per thousand impressions] plus performance."
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