- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

ON MEDIA

A pair of nervy Americans is about to test both the global media community and the credibility of the Internet.

In this case, a better word might be "incredibility."

Seattle natives Tim Freccia and Mike Tucker plan to sell marijuana on-line via a fancy Web site that uses marketing techniques right off Madison Avenue.

Their site is called "iToke," and they are headquartered not on some offshore rebel base but right in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal and as much a tourist attraction as the legal bordellos. Come September, the two entrepreneurs will loose a fleet of delivery vans and bike couriers to deliver the goods within 30 minutes of their order, just like pizza.

"iToke was a no-brainer," Mr. Freccia says. "With the advent of comprehensive e-commerce solutions, we've been able to demonstrate a distribution system to communities that allay fears about criminality, and guarantees users can enjoy our products safely and responsibly."

Though it smells of a hoax, Mr. Freccia peddles an idyllic vision "Build it, and they will come," he says. The public can choose either to get dope from a van with a logo, or from "some guy in an alley."

Everything at the Web site is already trademarked, including its slogan "need weed?" doubtless a cannibalization of the old "got milk?" slogan.

Marketing patois is everywhere.

Mr. Freccia peppers his talk with buzzwords like "premium product," "community interest" and "investment driven venture." He claims officials in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Hamburg and Dublin are interested, to the point of developing theme clubs.

Talks are also under way, he adds, with unspecified American officials to gain "permits for flagship restaurant-bars in the States … think Starbucks and Fed-Ex."

There's also a special "smart" credit card available; a search is under way for a celebrity spokesman, much like "William Shatner and Priceline," Mr. Freccia says.

The site (www.itoke.co.uk) gets 250,000 hits a month. So far, it sells nothing more than T-shirts made of cotton rather then hemp the fabric of choice among marijuana legalization fans and the site claims to be sold out.

Is this all for real? With built-up sites and careful references to the credible world, it has the trappings of an on-line hoax like the young couple last year who claimed they would "lose their virginity live on the Internet."

That couple's moment of truth came and went in yet another media fraud.

But iToke is getting press all along the media food chain. Legitimate dailies and magazines like Business Week, Wired and Spin have covered the story, along with legions of Internet scribes, who have bashed, applauded and sneered at the site.

Ironically, it is on the Internet that the credibility of "iToke" is questioned. Yahoo lists it as a "parody" site rather than as a business venture.

Mr. Freccia and partner Mr. Tucker continue to give interviews from a sailboat in Spain while pushing another venture laden with e-commerce gobbledygook. They also offer "Fast Attack Branding" software for what they call "micro start-ups" on "the bleeding edge of new media."

If delivery vans roll through Amsterdam in September as promised, the question will be answered. For now, "iToke" is alive through buzz alone and these days, that can pass for journalism.

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