- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2000

A new Internet virus has reached the area.
Epidemic Marketing Inc. (www.epidemic.com) has put a high-tech spin on ages-old "word-of-mouth" promotion by paying registered users to put advertising banners onto their personal e-mail. In the new advertising approach, which is called viral marketing, the user is paid cash incentives when recipients click through and purchase or otherwise use the banner's Web site.
"I have been an Internet user since the early years when it was populated by no more than bulletin boards and, ever since I began seeing ad banners, I found [Internet marketing] an interesting aspect of the Web," said Chris Cotropia, a D.C. resident and Epidemic subscriber.
"When I found Epidemic on line I wanted to try it, I was interested in how it would look and how it would work. This type of spot direct marketing is very interesting to me."
The ads placed on the e-mails include colorful graphics and moving elements. Mr. Cotropia, who is a law clerk at the Court of Appeals, allows the Epidemic-brokered ads only on his personal e-mails and, as yet, has not tried to target specific advertisers to individuals whose profiles match in some way.
To date none of his friends have objected to receiving his ad-laden e-mail messages.
"You definitely notice the ads," Mr. Cotropia said. "They are colorful and much more interesting than the text ads previously seen attached to e-mails and that were easy to dismiss."
Epidemic, which started operating last year, is headquartered in Denver.
Chief Executive Officer Kelly Wanser said the success of sites such as All Advantage (www.alladvantage.com) and Cybergold (www.cybergold.com) indicates that her brand of viral marketing will work. Those sites pay registered users to surf from their site to advertisers' sites.
When the recipient of the Epidemic-enhanced e-mail responds to the ad by clicking through to the Web site, the person who sent the e-mail earns cash and bonuses.
The sender can increase his chances of earning money by targeting ads for sites such as Chip Shot (www.chipshot.com) to his Saturday morning golfing buddies or by sending e-mail with ads for Flowers.com (www.flowers.com) just before Valentine's Day.
Epidemic ad senders will earn a 7.5 percent commission on any sales realized from Chip Shot and 10 cents per person that they "introduce" to Flowers.com.
The ad senders can choose one of three payment options personal payment distributed to them in cash or gift certificates; an donation to an organization that is designated during the sign-in process or a not-for-profit donation to any organization that is listed in the registration process.
Epidemic is trying to attract members such as Mr. Cotropia, early pioneers to the concept of making money through commercial marketing efforts on line. This group is primarily young people ages 16 to 25. According to Ms. Wanser, the most active ZIP code of users of All Advantage is the infamous 90210 of Beverly Hills, California.
"This group is fast adopters of new ideas on line," Ms. Wanser said.
Another subscriber Epidemic encourages is the not-for-profit fund-raising organizations that use the technique to generate earnings for donations.
"We see this as an easier way for fund raising than the more traditional candy sales or auctions. It is a big market and it is a sticky market and we feel we are providing an enhanced opportunity to engage in electronic fund raising."
Epidemic then hopes to attract advertisers seeking to market to audiences with specific-affinity relationships such as sports teams or universities.
"Epidemic is a performance-based model that depends on how we, including our registered users, work for the advertisers," Ms. Wanser said. "We are facilitating the ad impressions that the marketer wants while helping to ensure that the [cost per thousand] of those impressions results in sales of their product."
Have an interesting site? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Business Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).

Site of the Week: Epidemic Marketing Inc.

Site address: www.epidemic.com
Recommended user group: People who like to send e-mails and make easy money in very tiny increments.
What's to like? The site adequately promotes the "viral marketing" concept to users and advertisers. Low in bells and whistles, pages use color and bold text to attract the eye.
On other sites, I have found the only way to really learn what is going on is to completely register, which I have found to be a major annoyance. However, Epidemic provides all that information up front. If one likes the concept, just sign up and become an "epiad" e-mailer.
What's not to like? The jury is still out on the concept of viral marketing, but the Internet constantly changes the way the business world thinks. Maybe, I just need to get with this program and start earning some extra cash even though I may end up aggravating some friends.
Plenty of links to go around: Those who like the idea of using epiads to enhance charitable contributions can designate their earnings to one of 25 organizations including:
Childreach (www.childreach.org) whose mission is to improve the lives of poor children worldwide.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America (www.bgca.org) provides positive places for children to find recreation, companionship and guidance.


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