After Politics: JibJab and Meetup Transform Content and Ad Models

The political fervor of the ’04 election season propelled them to online fame, but the animators at JibJab Media and the socially conscious networkers at Meetup have moved on from the red and the blue to greener pastures. Both firms have shifted to where the money is: sponsorships. JibJab today is set to launch a series of live action sketch comedy clips sponsored by the Verizon Wireless V CAST Music service. And, after a handful of strategic changes over the years, Meetup is piloting a sponsorship model with Intuit.

In July 2004, JibJab gained overnight recognition, online and off, when its quirky This Land animation spoofed Bush, Kerry and co. The production company hasn’t done much by way of politics lately, despite the current election season. Nothing about recent political events has inspired JibJab founders and brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, CEO Gregg told ClickZ News.

Working with goofball humor hero John Landis, however, has. The creator of flicks like “Animal House” and “Three Amigos” has directed the first installment of JibJab’s Great Sketch Experiment comedy series. Six two- to four-minute clips were created by comedy troupes chosen as part of a contest seeking out lesser-known comedic talent. The mini-films will be available on the JibJab site, preceded by brief ads for the wireless content provider. Verizon’s V CAST mobile subscribers will also have access to the clips, which include a 1950s-style sketch called “So You Want to Be a Cop” and another that tells the tale of “The Shawshank Redemption” in about a minute.

“We want to make JibJab a big platform for independent talent,” said Spiridellis. In addition to the promotional lift from the Landis affiliation, each of the sketches will be featured on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” where other JibJab creations have debuted. Since skyrocketing to prominence, JibJab has licensed content to AtomFilms, Yahoo, and MSN.

“Great Sketch is going to be a franchise,” said Spiridellis. The goal is to produce an ongoing series of funny films in conjunction with a variety of directors, and eventually build up to a daily dose of Web hilarity. The company is working towards determining the right economic model to reward its comic creators, but has yet to figure out exactly what the payment structure will be.

Rewarding creators of content, be it professionally-produced or the less-polished text discussions and images posted by members of Meetup, is becoming the latest trend in user-generated media. Meetup’s approach is not to pay members outright; rather it’s to waive most of the $16 to $19 monthly fees otherwise paid by operators of its groups.

The firm has been testing that formula for the last month with help from Intuit, the trial sponsor of mom-centric Meetup groups focused on small business and work-at-home topics. Meetup made its name leading up to the 2004 presidential primaries, primarily through Howard Dean Meetup events. In the beginning, the company charged venues holding in-person Meetups for listings on the site. The model proved faulty, however, once political partisans threatened to boycott establishments where group members of rival political persuasions met, said Meetup Director of Partnerships Benjamin Flamming.

It was free back then to start a Meetup group. When Meetup introduced its fee-based model in April 2005, many of its politically active and socially conscious users weren’t happy. A mass exodus resulted, according to Flamming. “It caused a lot of upheaval.”

The transition from politics to parenting has been good to Meetup. The site has regained the membership ground it lost, and is up to three million members, a third of whom belong to paid groups run for and by moms. Other popular group topics include dog breeds, poker, knitting, scrap booking and Spanish.

Because they are willing to pay, they tend to devote more time and energy to their groups, which Flamming believes makes for a higher quality membership pool than resided there in the past. In fact, many of the parent groups meet daily, he said.

These days, Flamming, whose director of partnerships position was created in June, is busy hitting up advertisers who may be interested in reaching out to that high quality audience by sponsoring Meetup groups.

“We’re very careful about the authenticity of it,” said Flamming of the Intuit sponsorship. “We’re making sure it’s aligned with our core values.” That’s why the firm allowed group operators to opt-in to the program, instead of forcing it on the groups that fit Intuit’s target audience. In addition to sponsoring the groups, Intuit has the opportunity to offer small business-related speakers for appearances at group meetings.

Even though Meetup is “really trying to focus on this marketing thing,” according to Flamming, the firm has assembled a task force to determine which site tools and offerings will make it economically viable to embrace political groups more wholeheartedly.

JibJab isn’t saying goodbye completely to political themed comedy, either, Spiridellis said. In fact, the firm is planning on trying an artistic medium other than computer animation and live action that would suit politics just fine. “We’ll be doing a lot of puppet stuff next year,” he said.

Zach Rodgers contributed to this article.

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