Art & Commerce: Consumer Republic

DotComGuy is taking self-endorsement to new heights
By now you may have seen the spot for the MSN Project, in which a rainbow coalition of four move into an empty house with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a connection to MSN. Armed only with a mouse, they will fill their space with all the stuff they may need or desire.
A clever concept, you say?
Well, been there, done that.
On Jan. 1, 2000, a real-life publicity hound with the adopted moniker of DotComGuy showed up in a bare suburban tract house in Dallas with nothing more than the clothes on his back and several sponsors. Vowing not to emerge from the “Dotcompound” until New Year’s Day 2001, he has pledged to service all his needs via the Internet–and to prove it, every moment of his yearlong e-xistence is being documented by 20 cameras and fed live to a
waiting world over Ad art imitates life.
In fact, my guess is this “big idea” struck the creative team at McCann-Erickson in New York about the same time it occurred to DotComGuy Inc. of Dallas.
Big ideas work like that, and this one has the aura of inevitability in the current I-buy-therefore-I-am climate. Perhaps MSN was not thinking big enough. Instead of staging its project 30 seconds at a time, it might have realized it in what is laughingly known as “real” life, 24 hours a day.
Ad agencies do this kind of thing for a living, but what motivates a onetime manager of human resource systems for Airtouch Paging to voluntarily turn his life into a 24/7 infomercial?
You will be glad to learn that he is doing it for you and me. “I want to help people realize the possibilities” of the Internet, DCG avows. He is like a flagpole sitter who claims to be doing it for his country. Thanks to his sacrifice, millions of modem-shy consumers will learn how easy it is to get stuff online.
Is e-commerce passing the test? DCG appears to be well-fed, lots of furniture has arrived (viewable on the site’s “What I’ve Bought” page), plus he’s got cable TV and all the books and CDs his heart desires. Yet to get many of the services the poor guy needs, it sure seems a lot easier just to pick up a phone.
I would say don’t try this stunt at home, but where else can you try it?
Let’s just say don’t attempt it unless you have a corporation, sponsors, a team of producers, publicist, attorney, T-1 line, security and routing systems, and three or more computers at your disposal.
DCG, meantime, is doing swell. He can’t offer visitor numbers, but he claims his site has 48,000 registered users and more requests to wave at the cameras than he can handle.
His sponsors have to be pleased as well: DCG has racked up 700 media placements in his first 16 weeks under house arrest–make that 701–and his one obvious talent is to plug several of them in every single interview. And this is only the beginning. In order to keep the “message” alive, DCG hopes to storm the speaker
circuit as an Internet advocate once he rejoins the rest of us.
Till then, the site will be perfecting its mix of “entertainment, e-commerce and community,” a blend that, DCG notes a tad immodestly, “large companies like AOL and Time Warner are trying to mimic.”
Lest Steve Case feel compelled to compete head-to-head by Webcasting his father cooking him breakfast, I should point out this digital-age marathon dance consists of the same stale “content” with which the Internet is already oversupplied: Web site reviews, e-commerce links, product promotions, contests, live chats and video feeds of someone sleeping. The site is about as compelling as watching paint dry–and I mean that literally. Earlier this month, DCG arranged to have his house painted.
Yet, there remains something compelling about DCG, although it’s not what he thinks it is. He is the huckster as naif. Imagine a non-
descript 20-something without a prayer of being cast in real commercials who pulls himself up by the telephone lines to become a self-made endorser. Talk about the Internet as a force for consumer empowerment.
Moreover, he did it by endorsing a product–the Net–that doesn’t need it. It’s already the most relentlessly sold technology in history. Finally, to the extent that DotComGuy is “famous,” he’s won his fame by buying stuff–a true consumer hero.
Consumers have volunteered body parts as billboards for marketers for decades. DotComGuy goes the extra mile by offering a year of his life to the cause, creating a promotional M…bius strip for himself and his sponsors. Make that life imitates ad art. K