Hostway Hopes to Repeat Viral Success

Following the success of its popular “Bob’s Cube” viral site launched earlier this year, Web hosting provider Hostway and 15 letters have created “Leroy the Hand.”

“In a crowded and commoditized space, they have struggled for differentiation,” Mark Rattin, president and creative director at 15 letters, told ClickZ News. “We’ve helped them create branded interactive events that are designed to promote the brand in a more grassroots way. They allow for people to pass along a message that inherently is a marketing message, but is wrapped in a shell of entertainment and interactivity.”

The site tells the story of Leroy Koslowski, a hand that struggles with the success of his brother, who gained fame as a spokesmodel for a “Hamburger Helper”-style brand. Leroy did not share his brother’s good fortune, and a series of five short films recounts the ups and downs of his life, until he met up with Hostway’s marketing manager at a bar and got the Hostway job.

Hidden among the entertaining elements designed to engage potential Web hosting customers with the Hostway brand, the site features a “Talk to the Hand” Web hosting plan selector and other company information. The site is intended especially to appeal to Web designers and developers, who Rattin says are jaded by all they see online, and need to see something very special in order to be impressed.

“I hesitate to use the term ‘viral,’ since everyone says their ads are viral. But what we’re doing is viral, because it’s unusual, exceptional, well crafted and unexpected,” Rattin said. “It’s designed to connect with a core audience that Hostway speaks to, and that’s Web designers and Web developers. They’re a significant part of Hostway’s business, because they refer a lot of business to Hostway.”

This is the third such “branded event” that Hostway has done, following a “Holi-play” gaming site a year ago, and “Bob’s Cube,” which launched in April. The original intent was to raise awareness of the Hostway brand in what is essentially a “boring” market, Drew Mitchell, marketing manager at Hostway, told ClickZ News.

“With Holi-play, we thought we’d get some branding benefits, and maybe increase traffic to the site. We were surprised to see that the site was actually driving sales and converting,” Mitchell said. “Once we had that conversion story, it was easy to sell the idea of another one.”

Bob’s Cube launched in April with no advertising support, and has driven over 1 million visits to the Hostway Web site and sold over 200 Web hosting plans. In total, Bob’s Cube generated a 73 percent ROI, according to Mitchell. It also allowed Hostway to divert the message away from price to a more value-driven message, supported by the brand affinity it was building through the efforts.

The Bob’s Cube site led to a considerable increase in traffic for Hostway, from an average of 6,000 to 8,000 unique visitors a day to more than 20,000 daily unique visitors for several months after Bob’s Cube launched. Even eight months later, the site continues to draw around 2,500 daily unique visitors.

It has also generated significant buzz and attention in the Web design community, as well as a few copycats, including strikingly similar sites from Netscape in May and Starbucks in July.

Most of Hostway’s online advertising is made up of paid search on Google, along with some search engine optimization. Since the success of these viral efforts, Hostway has reduced its spend on banners and now only keeps a presence on industry sites, Mitchell said.

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