Like Butta: Fabio's Smooth Mobile Move

I am a big fan of comebacks. John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Wink Martindale: I just love when minor talents get second acts. In fact, the more unlikely the celebrity's first stardom, the more entertaining the return. Who would have guessed such a person could be famous once, let alone twice in one lifetime? So you know I am just loving the resurrection of Fabio in the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter campaigns. How a man who seems to have stolen Marcia Brady's hair ever got notoriety beyond the covers of Harlequin Romances is a wonder in itself. To see him associated with margarine is just too delicious. At The KitchenofLove.com Web site, the aging boy toy invites American women to "esssplore" his kitchen or "just talk." And by the way, he says, "you look wonderful in it."

Now Fabio goes mobile in the very clever and effective WAP microsite that Crisp Wireless constructed for MindShare Interaction and its client Unilever. Located at http://wap.icbinb.mlogic3g.com from your mobile Web browser, the branded entertainment riffs and goofs on the Fabio ethos. There are "Seductive Recipes," ringtones, video Fabiograms, and even mobile versions of the Webisodic series "Sprays of Her Life," a longtime staple of the ICBINB online production.

This is one of the more compact and comprehensive brand extensions I have seen lately. Like the recent Bravo WAP site for "Project Runway" (also a Crisp Wireless production) and Dennis Publishing's new Maxim Mobile WAP sites, the ICBINB extension offers a combination of content and assets well-tuned to mobile. There is a robustness here that moves beyond mere mobile novelty. There is substantial entertainment value to it, and certainly a pass-along currency as well. These are sites you might actually bookmark in a WAP browser, at least to show someone else.

I am just as impressed that traffic to the mobile site is being driven entirely by mobile ad banner click-throughs. Crisp and MindShare partnered with Third Screen Media to run ads across its network of branded WAP sites. There is no SMS-to-WAP push from the Web site, no print or on-package promotions of the mobile production. The mobile URL is too long and tortuous to promote off-air, anyway. The only way you get to Fabio, or even know about the destination, is by clicking into one of the banners running on TSM mobile partners like USA Today, on whose site I found the ad.

Are we really at a point in mobile Web browsing where a marketing microsite project like this can rely wholly on the WAP ecosystem to drive interest? TSM CEO Tom Burgess tells me that ExxonMobile and Burger King both have run similar campaigns. "The brands have experienced some very good results," he says. "In fact, as we all experienced in the early days of the Internet, advertising within the medium you're seeking to promote typically generates sharply higher results than cross-media promotion." He says that the banners drive more traffic overall than the off-air traffic drivers. Boris Fridman, CEO of Crisp, says that the scale of WAP traffic at major media brands now can support standalone mobile campaigns. "It is not a watershed event, but it is an affirmation that mobile advertising is effective."

Of course, we would love to see some real numbers attached to projects like these in the eventual case studies. How many mobile users in the end do campaigns like these net the advertiser? What is the expected ROI right now from a mobile-only campaign?

For now, I am just excited for Fabio. A man who dares to wear hair like that in 2006 and still thinks that half-open shirts are sexy deserves to be a mobile wallpaper icon. Perhaps what Danni Ashe and Cindy Margolis were to the late-90s Internet--the most downloaded sex symbols--Fabio could be for mobile.