Pets.com Sock Puppet Shows the Perils of Outbound Marketing

    by Mike Volpe

    Date

    May 26, 2009 at 10:44 AM

    1999/2000 was the absolute peak of the outbound marketing era because small startups raised hundreds of millions of dollars and then spent that money on outbound advertising (TV, print, billboards) thinking that the more you spent on outbound marketing, the faster you would grow.  This proved to be a completely false assumption, and the era of outbound marketing ended, including a gigantic crash of the stock market (only surpassed by the most recent financial crisis) and the loss of many jobs in the startup and Internet industries.

    For those of you who do not know the Pets.com Sock Puppet, it was the mascot of a startup Pets.com that was trying to sell pet supplies online.  Not a bad business (in fact, people are making money in that business today), but their strategy was based on how you built a brand in 1950, not 2000.  The Sock Puppet starred in numerous TV ads, including a Superbowl ad, and became quite famous... So famous that the company started selling toys based on the sock puppet.  But none of that helped Pets.com build a profitable business.  In fact, in their first year of operations, they spent $11 million on advertising to gain $600,000 in revenue.

    Outbound Marketing and Inbound Marketing Era - brands 1950-2000

    Big brands used to be built on outbound marketing.  But then inventions like the remote control, cable TV, and the DVR made it more possible for people to control what they view, and ignore advertisements.  The Internet and other new technologies take this to the extreme.  Today, the outbound marketing model is broken, as Pets.com proved.  The next 50 years are the age of inbound marketing.  If Pets.com had built their brand differently, the Sock Puppet might not be collecting unemployment today.

    How are you building your brand?  What do you think marketers can learn from the Pets.com example?

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