Branding and the Million Dollar Homepage

Christine Perfetti

January 25th, 2006

This week, marketing expert Seth Godin, has chimed in with his thoughts on the Million Dollar Home Page.

The Million Dollar Homepage is an innovative site created by college student Alex Tew to help raise money for his college education. Alex’s business model involved selling the one million pixels displayed on the home page for $1 per pixel. The business experiment turned out to be a huge success — Alex sold all of the ad space.

A piece of the Million Dollar Homepage

In his post, Seth is impressed with Alex Tew’s strategy but is bewildered by all of the sites attempting to duplicate his success:

When I see the 10,000 copycats out there, all I can do is sigh. Why do they believe this is a new trend? Why do they think it’s going to become an important part of the marketing mix, and are they really so naive to believe that they, and they alone, will earn even more than Alex did?

I agree. I have serious doubts any of the sites trying to duplicate the concept will be successful. The Million Dollar Homepage was a novel advertising campaign that generated attention for many of the site’s initial advertisers because people wanted to see who was willing to participate in this experiment. But I find it hard to believe the site generates much value for advertisers now that all of the pixels have been sold.

The concept fails as a marketing strategy for a few reasons. Online branding is not just about exposing potential customers to the organization’s logo. We’ve seen in our research studies that indirect messaging such as logos rarely works effectively unless users are repeatedly exposed to them. Plus, the Million Dollar Homepage is so overloaded with images and impressions, it’s unlikely users will pay attention to one particular logo.

Successful online branding also involves a user forming an emotional association (such as a feeling of excitement or happiness) about an organization or product. In the case of the Million Dollar Homepage, customers are exposed to a page of cluttered advertisements. There isn’t a real relationship or emotional association being built.

Finally, advertisements tend to work best when they are in some way related to the task users are trying to accomplish when they visit a site. Without understanding the users’ context when they arrive at the Million Dollar Homepage, is any ad on the page guaranteed to resonate with them? I don’t think so.

While the Million Dollar Homepage is an innovative idea that paid off for the site’s creator, it really hasn’t paved the way for a new approach to successful advertising.

8 Responses to “Branding and the Million Dollar Homepage”

  1. Srinivasan Says:

    Hi,

    I disagree with your conclusions, for the following reasons:

    1. The whole advertising model on the Internet is based on the assumption that “targeting” is the same as “context”. For example, the assumption is that if a user searches for briefcases, a briefcase advertisement must be served, because the user is most likely to click on that advertisement.

    2. What is ignored in Point 1, is the fact that the user will click on an advertisement if it interests him, EVEN IF it is in no way relevant to the context.

    Originally, this is how advertising used to work, but with the advent of Adwords etc, this fact is being forgotten. For example, If I am a Soccer fan, I will click on Soccer Ads, even if they show up when I am searching for something else.

    3. What is also ignored in Point 1, is the fact that there is a “Curiosity” element when ppl click on ANYTHING. The Million Dollar Homepage concept is testimony for this fact. Sometimes, ppl click on ads just because they are curious. Is there something BIG here that everyone has managed to ignore?

    As an experiment, based on the Million Dollar Homepage Concept, we are trying to build a Compendium of Web2.0 companies, in Pixels, at http://www.web20milliondollarhomepage.com/.

    The idea is simple: it will prove if Point 3 listed above is a huge market waiting to be tapped.

    Do have a look, and let us know what you think.

  2. aman Says:

    did that pay i dont believe it.pictures woven togeather

  3. Lumpy Says:

    I think it will only work once. It is a novelty. Granted people do click out of curiosity but, in general, they click if it meets wants and needs.

    I looked over the million dollor pixel blog and, if we assume started the project with the first blog entry and ended it with the announcement of the E-bay auction winner, then he sold over 6000 pixels/day.

    Now, if one goes to the site of your first commenter, the site shows that it has sold 300 pixels. If the commenter’s site has existed for only one day, it is performing at less that 5 hundredths of a percent compared original idea.

    I think that about sums up it being duplicated.

  4. Daniel Vince Says:

    I believe that you are right in that it will only be really successful once. We are very pleased with our investment in the Million Dollar Homepage. I managed to get in there quite early, buying the large red /blue and white target near the centre of the page.

    Within that image there are links to 5 different websites. Our main Corporate Gifts website reached a peak of 5000 unique visitors a day and has levelled off to 500 a day at the moment.

    I know the traffic is untargeted, but there are ways to increase the success of it. I found that a easy way to get more benefit is to have a special offer on the page that is linked to by the MDHP. We have now recouped a large part of our investment within 3 months.

    Thanks Alex.

  5. Zephyr Says:

    Seems to me like the only reason this worked in the first place, was the novelty value. It created a huge hype, drawing many people to the page, a percentage of whom probably decided to click through on an ad. But after the hype, what does an unsightly page like this do for the average visitor? If the idea continues to make money, it will probably be for the people offering the advertising space, not the people advertising.

  6. Michael Says:

    I think I would tend to agree.

    From a marketing perspective, we tend to look at “limited available” spots on places such as news sites (such as http://www.24-7pressrelease.com), where we know that branding is the key.

    Although click through rate may not be as high as Google, we are there for branding. In a place such as Alex’s home page, unless you take out a 200 x 400 ($80,000), ad, your picture will be pretty much lost!

    Marketing Associate
    Angelbodywear.com

  7. Gary Says:

    I agree that sites that have cloned the million dollar homepage will never be successful. For the most part, I think Alex Tew just got lucky that everyone talked about his idea. The whole pixel market is so saturated that most sites now can’t even sell a good sized spot for a dollar.

    I have a site which was not inspired by the million dollar home page. Because of its creativity it is doing quite well unlike all the pixel sites out there. I am however a little worried because of several copy cats I have already seen. It appears that everybody is out to make money on other people’s ideas.

    Gary
    Virtual World Real Estate

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