Half.com Drums Up ‘Cookie’ Branding Gimmick

Back in 1999, when fixed-priced Web marketplace Half.com was looking to get some visibility, it cooked up a quirky plan to land on the map — literally — by convincing the town of Halfway, Oregon to change its name.

In exchange for $100,000, two-dozen computers for the town’s elementary school and Web consulting service, the town of Halfway (population 350)officially changed its name to Half.com.

Now, with that gimmick out of the way, the Philadelphia-based Half.com (which is owned by online auction giant eBay) has blanketed the New York region with a new tactic: tiny advertisements rolled up in fortune cookies.

In partnership with Brooklyn-based Wonton Food Inc., Half.com is doling out millions of fortune cookies daily in Chinese restaurants, offering $5.00 off purchases at the company’s Web site.

Half.com’s VP of marketing Mark Hughes said the fortune cookie branding campaign was a cheap and innovative way to target potential customers in larger markets.

“We wanted a way to get the message out that you can save a fortune at Half.com. So we thought, hey, why not get on a fortune cookie and do it that way. And, the feedback has been unbelievable,” he said.

“We’ve advertised on peanut bags in New York before. We slapped our slogan – “Why pay full price when you can get them for peanuts on half.com?” – on peanuts bags and, this thing absolutely works. More importantly, it’s cheap.”

While the fortune cookie campaign is targeting New York and other East Coast cities, Hughes said some Chinese restaurants in the Midwest and Phoenix have also distributed the cookies with the Half.com slogan printed on the tiny slips.

“Think about it. When you finish your dinner, you always crack your cookie and read the fortune. Then, you read it to your companions. We have put our name where people will see it.”

“There is so much advertising these days. People flip through magazines and glaze over commercials on television but more than 90 percent of people read their fortune cookies,” Hughes said. “More than anything else, it’s a fun idea.”

Hughes declined to divulge spending on the campaign, noting the deal with cookie maker Wonton Foods was a long-term one.

The cookie campaign comes just as Half.com opened four new stores this week in a bold bid to expanding its marketplace of used goods.

Half.com opened stores for computers, electronics, sporting goods and trading cards. The company, whose other stores focus on media products such as books, music and movies, allows consumers to buy and sell goods at fixed prices through its site.

As with eBay, Half.com does not directly sell the items on its site. Instead, it collects a commission on sales made through its site.

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