Web Publisher Takes On Laddie Mags, Uses Gals To Tell Guys What Women Really Want
Not that anybody associated with the company is questioning its mission, mind you. It's just that DoubleAgent, even in its early days, has multimedia and marketing ambition that far exceeds what one expects from a nascent web entity in the post-boom era.
"We're not a magazine. We're not an email. We're not a web site," stresses vice president Andrew Simon. "We are an agency. Our mission is to find out what women think and want, then relay it to men." He pauses, then quickly adds, "If we play this right, we could become almost a consultant for companies that want to reach men."
DoubleAgent's premise is relatively simple: "girls spying on girls for guys," in Simon's words. The site sends obscenely great-looking women out to survey their female peers on relationships, style and sex, then report their findings back to its readers (thus making them "double agents" - get it?). Among the topics to be explored: getting an apartment ready for a date, relatively cheap gifts and the proper moment in a relationship to send flowers. The content is distributed via email, articles on the site and online video clips.
Two weeks after launch, DoubleAgent is delivering its emails to around 12,000 men several times per week. The site is still trying to find the exact right frequency for the missives - "I don't think anybody wants or needs to hear from us every day," Simon says - but initial response has been slightly above company projections. Each email boasts an interactive component, as recipients are asked to choose a future mission for the agents.
What distinguishes DoubleAgent is the site's emphasis on advice; it's more Queer Eye for the Straight Guy than a laddie mag. And while men have no problem finding information about sports, gear or fashion on the Internet, Simon and his cohorts believe that field-tested advice is in relatively short supply. "Beyond Maxim Online and Stuff Online, I'm not sure how much there is out there," he says. "And what they deliver isn't so much great advice as entertainment. They'll write about how to have a three-way, but that's not real. What we deliver is real."
DoubleAgent says that men between the ages of 18 and 34 comprise 76% of its audience, and that 87% of all visitors are 21 and over. Additionally, Simon claims that women have gravitated to the site since its debut - sort of a heady boast, given that it's been in existence for all of three weeks. "They all want to be double agents," he says.
It's this interest from women (around 10% of DoubleAgent's audience) that Simon believes will broaden the site's appeal to advertisers. While Simon and site founder Charles Sommer are doing the usual meet-and-greets with agencies and brand managers, they claim to be considering only big brands for marketing and sponsorship deals. "Most web sites launch with the flashing banners and X-10 spy cams - we won't take any of those," Simon explains, identifying Sony, Warner Brothers and Miramax (currently the site's most prominent advertiser via a Kill Bill tie-in) as ideal partners. "We're self-funded, so booking revenue isn't our most important priority. We want to build this right."
As for the competition, Simon says that DoubleAgent's advice-first mantra is already generating interest from companies a bit skittish about associating themselves with Maxim's edgier content. "I was just talking with a major consumer packaged goods company. They're not sure they want to be associated with the Maxim brand," he notes. Of course, this belies the presence of companies ranging from Western Union to Mazda to Nautica Jeans Company on Maxim's site, and it's not like the big brands DoubleAgent is targeting have yet to come on board. But having full-bore promotions from Miramax and Warner Brothers (an upcoming campaign around the next Matrix flick) isn't too shabby for a fledgling web company.
DoubleAgent's success may ultimately hinge on whether advertisers embrace the video clips that are central to its mission. In the wake of the success of ESPN Motion and the upcoming launch of MSN Video, DoubleAgent has to be hoping that potential marketing partners overcome their aversion to streaming video ads sooner rather than later. "It takes an ESPN to get buyers interested in something like this, and look at how they've been doing - they're selling video at the upfronts," Simon says. "It's only a matter of time."
DoubleAgent sure seems to be in a hurry. The company has already started doing weekly segments on New York's WB 11 morning show and Simon speaks enthusiastically (though vaguely) about the brand "performing on other platforms." He quickly adds, however, that "we're not sitting around and waiting for something to hit." Simon has set goals of 50,000 registered users and 500,000 unique visitors per month (by comparison, Maxim Online generates north of two million), and believes there's an outside chance that the company can hit these numbers in early 2004.
Next up for Simon and the site: spreading the gospel. "We're new and nobody's heard of us," he admits. "We're only trying to work with big brands, but they want to see numbers - we don't have those yet." Still, he rules out high-profile launch parties or press blitzes (uh, so that New York Daily News story just magically appeared?) as ways to generate buzz. Possibilities for the future include more episodic content (e.g., giving the site's agents back stories) as well as some kind of blog component.