Brandtique: MySpace

In the explosive trajectory of MySpace, both in traffic and cultural buzz, the anything-goes site faces a branding conundrum. It's hardly news that much of the appeal for its 100 million users is an opportunity to tour what is arguably the world's largest online dating market. But while News Corp. likes the traffic the "virtual singles' bar" produces, it has clearly scared away some advertisers. And that could spell trouble if dating emerges as the Web site's dominant ID.

News Corp. has taken steps to ensure that the site's content is monitored, while advertisers are showing an increased interest. And if traffic among coveted younger demos continues to skyrocket, marketers more concerned with the bottom line than public image--particularly movie and music companies--will likely continue to buy display ads. Plus, they will play around with creating stealth-marketing "pages" designed to resemble what "Allison" from Brookhaven, Miss. or "Jason" from Ashburn, Va. might post.



Still, given News Corp.'s aspirations for MySpace as a breakout growth driver, it continues to grapple with the site's official tag as a "social networking" locale, which has questionable de facto euphemisms.

While the roots of MySpace's brand integration into the Aug. 17 episode of the Seinfeld-esque FX comedy "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" are unclear, it highlights the site as the potential facilitator of risky amorous encounters--and for Danny DeVito no less. (Did MySpace execs work out some corporate-synergy deal with fellow News Corp. operation FX? Or did the writing staff just interject it into the show?).

Either way, it's probably not the message MySpace wants to spread. After all, the site is apparently working to clear the photos of naked people off millions of pages and eliminate other depraved content.

In fairness, not all of MySpace's presence in the FX episode is a negative for the site's image.

Quick summary: The comedy focuses on four 20-somethings, often good-for-nothing bar owners in Philly. Like "Seinfeld," it's three guys and a girl, and like the NBC blockbuster, they're always "scheming to get ahead by not-so-redeemable methods." (FX's language) In this, the second season, DeVito (Frank Reynolds) joined the cast as the father of two of the bar's sibling proprietors, Dee and Dennis. Reynolds wants to get over a divorce and mid-life crisis by joining the gang's adventures.

MySpace gets an early lift in the episode--one of the top-ranked product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX--with dialogue that does a decent job explaining the site's benefits. No insinuation of dating facilitation here.

The scene begins with Dee updating her MySpace page. Then, one of her co-owners walks in and asks: "What in the hell is a MySpace page?" Her brother shoots back: "Dude, these things are actually pretty awesome. You create a profile and then you put a profile on there, and other people send you pictures of themselves, and they want to be your friend."

Sounds so harmless. The episode kicks off a more complicated MySpace-oriented plot: Dee is contacted on the site by a man claiming to be her "biological" father. Although her actual dad, Reynolds, labors to contact the man on MySpace, he won't respond.

Then comes the whopper that could make MySpace execs and advertisers cringe. Reynolds (DeVito) is contacted by a "crazy" woman who claims they had a one-night stand 30 years ago. Exuberant, he later tells the younger guys: "Turns out, she's single and ready to go!" To social network?

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