Dot-coms Become Starstruck

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At least 15 Web sites are looking for celebrity pitchmen to boost their brand recognition, according to Ryan Schinman, executive vice president of CNB Capital, New York, a company that helps hire celebrities for corporate clients.


Companies such as CellularPhones.com, ePilot.com and Reelshort.com, while not brand names, hope a familiar face hawking their unfamiliar product will help them gain credibility with consumers.


CellularPhones.com, for example, is currently in discussions with a star to anchor its marketing campaign that begins in April. The site is battling head-to-head with five other sites with similar funding and products. A celebrity spokesperson will give them the edge, according to Colin Delia, president of CellularPhones.com, Orlando.


"We expect much greater response rates and believability because consumers will hear [about the product] from a celebrity," said Delia. "We tested ads during the Howard Stern show in Los Angeles and New York and our traffic doubled the day of the ads and continued to increase considerably in those markets."


This strategy can be risky and by no means guarantees success, according to Schinman. "Celebrities can give companies instant credibility," he said. "Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't."


It has worked for at least one Web company, Flooz.com, New York. It has seen revenues increase roughly 35 percent per week since a campaign featuring Whoopi Goldberg began in October, according to Jack Feuer, vice president of marketing at Flooz.com Inc.


The site's sales hit new highs the week before Christmas, when it intensified its advertising. The site earned nine times the revenue it pulled in throughout the entire month of September on one day - Dec. 20.


Proving the correlation of the site's commercials and the sales explosion was the fact that 85 percent of the more than 1 million people who visited the site between Dec. 13 and Dec. 17 got there by directly typing in the Web address, not through links on other sites or banner advertising.


Not all dot-coms will be that lucky because some will fail to pick an appropriate match for their product, according to Schinman, "Cozone.com and Trump is a prime example," he said. "I have no clue what they do, but I do know Trump and a cute looking girl were in the commercial."


The key to a successful campaign is the "celebrity must have a sincere interest in the product and an association that the public can readily see," said Schinman.


As for creating a sincere interest, there's no motivation like becoming a partner. Whoopi Goldberg reportedly will receive as many as 100,000 shares of the soon-to-be-issued stock. Although Feuer said that number was incorrect, he would not reveal the number. A similar arrangement was created for William Shatner and Priceline.com. And CellularPhones.com is offering an equity stake of 5 to 10 percent to its potential spokesperson.


To date, celebrities such as John Elway, Anna Nicole Smith, Rodney Dangerfield, Tom Green, Lee Majors, Ben Stein and Austin Powers' Mini-Me have made guest appearances or starred in ads for dot-com companies.


Schinman has matched Noah Wyle with eToys, Stephen Baldwin with the Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX.com) and Rich Karn from the television show "Home Improvement" with Gotkick.com, a home construction site.


Flooz had also considered using Tracy Ullman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lisa Kudrow.
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