Relationships, Quality, and Duckies

There is something going on that illustrates just what I love about the web. Not only that, but it involves duckies.

This guy in Brooklyn does a daily video blog each weekday. It is called “the show with zefrank.” His topics are all over the place, but he can talk give Jon Stewart-like commentary on issues in the news, discuss street signs he encounters, or any other rambling from his daily life. He is typically very funny, and he has gained a large following.

Ze seems to be a master of building involvement with his viewers. He often has contests, and regularly features fan submitted pieces. Lately, he has come upon a unique way to turn that fan appreciation into some monetary goodness for his site.

Would you like to sponsor a duckie?

You will notice on the bottom of his most recent video blog entries that there are tiny little duck images, little gem images, and larger duckies. Each of these images was purchased by his viewers for $5, $10, or $50 each. He calls this sponsorship program “Gimme some candy.”

Every time you hold your mouse over one of the ducks, a short appears. That’s it. That is what you get for your sponsorship dollars. So for yesterday’s show, he made a little over $1,000 dollars.

The thing about it is, I find myself scrolling over each ducky to see what they say.

Ze’s idea illustrates just what I love about the web. He built a community online by creating something intelligent and engaging. Instead of constantly trying to syndicate himself, and grow grow grow, he finds small ways to strengthen his relationship with viewers. Even when he thinks of ways to earn money from the site, he sticks to the same ethos, and people lovingly embrace his sponsorship opportunities. How often does that happen?

This appreciation for QUALITY is something that many growing companies face. Companies who are at a crossroads face it as well. An example of two companies, who in my opinion, took different paths when they hit this crossroads are clothing brands North Face and Carhartt.

The “prosumer” trend has been building for decades, and really hit the fashion world in the 90’s. When people discovered the expensive, quality, technical gear of North Face – they adopted the brand as the expensive jacket of choice for trips to the foodstore, instead of trips to the tops of cold moutains, for which the jackets were designed. From what I can tell, the brand lunged on this opportunity to get as big as they could, at the expense of quality. The company’s label is everywhere, but I question their ability to sustain this, and simply ebb out of the fashion scene as tastes change.

Carhartt is another brand that hit this prosumer crossroads with their rugged work-wear. Over the past decade, it has become easier to get Carhartt clothing, but they never turned the brand into fashion wear, and still stick to high quality clothes that perform for their core audience.

I can’t say that one path is better the other – each has its benefits. But one embraced its core audience, and has built its brand by strengthening this relationship based on quality. The other follows trends like the wind, and counts on the coolness of its brand to allow them to find an audience wherever it goes.

Or perhaps I just like duckies.

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