I recently started to see the Seinfeld/Superman "Webisodes" pop up on video sharing sites such as YouTube. I’d fogotten about them but they were very much ahead of their time and now they are enjoying a renewed interest in a broadband, web sharing era.
Quick history lesson: In 2004, American Express launched an online campaign by recruiting Jerry Seinfeld to star in two five minute movies with an animated Superman with plots centered on the American Express credit card. The two pieces were directed by Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog, Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam). Read more and watch the "webisodes" at my video blog.
It’s clear what’s going on here. Superman-related search traffic is surging due to the upcoming movie Superman Returns and that interest has unearthed the old American Express Webisodes. It certainly has nothing to do with anything American Express has done to promote the videos recently. The old address at which the Webisodes were hosted (americanexpress.com/jerry) no longer exists. That speaks volumes about the shortsightedness of most coporations and the percieved shelf-life of their marketing assets. And the Seinfeld/Superman pieces were a huge hit at the time.
Last month I wrote about how advertising must adapt to this new broadband, time-shifted environment by evolving from an interruptive medium to an entertainment vehicle in an of itself.
It seems to me that American Express created the model I’m talking about in 2004. The Webisodes were clever, entertaining, and featured the product solving a consumer problem.
If American Express had launched a similar effort today, we would be calling it a Video Marketing campaign. As it is, their video assets continue to work for them, riding the unexpected wave of interest in Superman. And they haven’t lifted a finger.
But the only reason this fan propelled branding is possible is that they created advertising that is enterrtaining in and of itself. That’s the kind of stuff that people like to share, and now they’ve got the tools to easily share them.