David Carson On The Spot

David Carson, co-founder of digital entertainment network Heavy.com, says the best decision he’s ever made is “not being an advertising company.” Carson, who with partner Simon Assaad first caught the industry’s attention with IBM e-business interactive ads at Ogilvy & Mather New York, is now most excited about creating and distributing content via the Internet. His animated series Behind the Music That Sucks debuted on Heavy.com and has since aired on TV networks around the world. A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Carson, 36, discusses digital content. Q: What was your inspiration for Heavy.com?

A: Heavy literally came out of everything that our clients at the time said we shouldn’t be doing. We said rather than try to push these things up a hill at some of the ad agencies and some of our marketing clients, maybe we should just put our money where our mouth is and just make it for ourselves. It was really just for us to show people what we were talking about. We were always a sort of “show me, don’t tell me” kind of company, so we figured, “We’ll make it, they’ll take a look at it and then they’ll certainly want to buy it.”

How did the success of Behind the Music That Sucks influence your business?

That’s been a process for us because we are trying to prove if you make something interesting and try to distribute it on this platform for online, you can actually do something interesting, you could actually get a lot of people to watch it, pay attention, interact with it and so forth. Who better to do it then just a few guys who have a very small company to show a larger company that, “Hey, you could be doing these types of things as well.” That actually ended up turning into a business for us because from there, Heavy.com actually started to get an audience, and an audience that advertisers wanted to get to.

You helped launch Fuse. How did that experience help you with Heavy.com?

We were essentially building the cable network, and I remember looking at the Nielsen ratings for MTV, MTV 2 and Fuse, and one of our research guys said we actually have a larger audience on Heavy.com. That’s when I realized I’m a complete idiot. Why am I building up this network for somebody else when I’ve got this other network that I own? So I quit the next day.

What is the percentage of original programming versus user-generated?

It’s really about 50/50, and it’ll be interesting to see where that mix goes. My Heavy is opening up a little more user gen for us.

You say MyHeavy is a safer place for user-generated content. Why?

Because we’re actually managing what’s going to be shown. … Burger King is a good example: We only gave out 25 masks to the users we thought would do something interesting with it. It wasn’t open to absolutely everybody. Then when they sent back videos, we weren’t going to show all of them—just the best of the best, so it worked really well. I think a lot of people misconstrue what user-generated is. It’s a bullshit term for marketers, and it can really be defined in any way, shape or form that you feel it can be defined. Just try to do it in an honest way.

How would you define it?

Simply a way for users to interact with brands, period.

Is consumer content the future?

It’s another thing that actually gets added to the mix.

Who has influenced you most creatively?

This is going to sound silly, but Wacky Packs. It was really all parody pop culture packaged for a 7-year-old kid with a piece of gum. They’re actually really well-done and very funny. I think they have influenced a ton of creative people between the ages of 28 and 35. Anything that came out of logobiting or culture-biting in some way I think started with Wacky Packs.

Name the last piece of communication you saw that you wished you had done.

The work that R/GA did with Nike for the cell phone on the billboards in Times Square. I thought it was really great, genius.

What do you think is the most disappointing creative trend?

MySpace pages. It’s probably one of the best and worst things for a while. It just doesn’t matter that they’re incredibly bad, I suppose. If they’re made by you, they’re fantastic and that’s all that matters. It’s all about the shiny, glittery hearts that you can use as your background.

What’s the smartest business decision that you’ve ever made?

Not being an advertising company.

Besides your own company, what’s your vote for best content company?

Apple is definitely at the top of the list, and then there’s Homestar Runner. Homestar Runner has an incredible audience … they make animations, and they’re interesting, and they’re wrong and they’re funny.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Clean socks, I hate to smile and furry. (I come from a hearty clan of Midwestern furry people.)

How about three words that other people would use to describe you?

A friend of mine seems to think that my quote for anything that I do should be, “Fuck those guys,” because I seem to be motivated by the things that people say I can’t do.

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