, Inc.

Author:Mark Lane

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OVERVIEW, Inc., entered the retail marketplace as a pioneering online bookseller in 1995, and though it had been steadily diversifying its product offerings all along, by 2004 most consumers still thought of the website only in connection with books and music. Having recently made the transition, thanks to years of capital-intensive investment, from dot-com trendsetter to actual profit maker, Amazon wanted its customers to begin thinking of its site whenever they needed anything. Unconvinced that television and other traditional forms of advertising could translate into online sales, Amazon and its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, enlisted Fallon Worldwide's Minneapolis office, a leader in online branded entertainment, to spread the message about Amazon's breadth of products via itself.

The result was "Amazon Theater," a series of five short films starring well-known Hollywood actors and integrating products available for purchase on The films, sponsored by JP Morgan Chase & Co., cost approximately $2.5 million to produce. Timed to coincide with peak holiday traffic, they premiered on each Tuesday between November 9 and December 7, 2004, and were packaged as a free "holiday gift" to customers. Though the featured Amazon products were folded into the stories without fanfare, they were listed as starring players in an interactive credit roll at the end of each movie, allowing viewers to click and go to linked Amazon pages to make immediate purchases.

This innovative integration of entertainment and shopping attracted industry and media attention and pointed the way to future explorations of interactive advertising. Amazon continued to experiment with the inclusion of entertainment on its website by partnering with the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005 to stage a short-film competition. Candidate films were available for free viewing on the website, and Amazon customers selected the winner.


Inspired by a statistic claiming that Internet usage was growing at a rate of 2,300 percent a year, entrepreneur Bezos launched Amazon in July 1995 as an online bookseller. By doing away with the costs associated with the building and operation of traditional retail stores, the pioneering Web business was able to offer consumers lower prices than its physical-world counterparts while still delivering a high level of customer service. As the Web population grew exponentially in the late 1990s, so did Amazon. It went public in 1997; extended its product range to music, videos, toys, and electronics in

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1998; began a concerted effort to buy up other dot-coms and to offer a wider range of online services; and increasingly established an international presence by 2000, with websites serving England, Germany, France, and Japan. In 2002 Amazon partnered with hundreds of clothing retailers. In 2003, after years of steady investment aimed at allowing it to boast "Earth's biggest selection" and to claim to be "Earth's most customer-centric company," Amazon posted its first yearly profit.

By 2004, despite the fact that Amazon's product selection rivaled that of Wal-Mart, most consumers still thought of the online retail powerhouse as a site strictly for buying books and music. Amazon wanted to change this perception, but it had almost entirely quit investing in traditional media advertising, choosing instead to keep prices low and offer free shipping. The company had, however...

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