Behind the Web Site That Works
Heavy.com's wicked humor and winning strategy
The Trojan ads are the first thing you see on Heavy's "Behind the Music That Sucks," the hot cartoon parody of VH1's "Behind the Music" featured on Ugo.com (UGO for UnderGroundOnline). Click on the playlist and up pops a window on which floats an image of a sumo wrestler, Heavy's trademark. The bar below the wrestler is where the Trojan Company proclaims that you can "get a free sample" of their premium latex product. Since UGO calls itself a "mecca for 18- to 34-year-old men," no surprise there -- what's a male hegira without its French ticklers? The ads do underscore the attitude behind Heavy's runaway hit. Imagine a satiric, media-addled teen given a year's worth of People magazines, scissors, and Flash software, and the results would be much like "Behind the Music That Sucks."
Here's what is funny: Jennifer Lopez has a big ass. Courtney Love is a controlling bitch. David Hasselhoff starred in Baywatch. Sometimes the humor is inspired, as when a young but very budding Mariah Carey tries out for a Christian cartoon network. Sometimes the joke is that females have big breasts. Cartoon jiggling is big on "Behind the Music That Sucks."
Heavy is that rare oxymoron, a profitable Net entertainment company. This has made David Carson and Simon Assaad, the company's chief execs, extremely cocky. "When we started Heavy, we were considered freaks," says Assad. "Our mantra back then was not to spend money. We had a lot of money before we took VC money. Interestingly, the first business plan we came up with is the one we have today." Carson adds, "When we started out, during the bubble, everybody seemed to be crazy."
Assaad came to New York nine years ago from Australia. "I have a background in independent filmmaking. I was making a movie, Closeup, and David was working with the guy who was my music composer."
They partnered. "We worked for a creative boutique," Carson says. "The deal was, we'd come in with this very goofy stuff and scare the client, right, so that they'd go for the straighter pitch the company wanted them to go for. It was good cop, bad cop in advertising terms. But then the goofy stuff started to sell."
The two made a mark with their Internet ads for Ogilvy & Mather's IBM e-business account. It won numerous awards and attracted attention to the creative duo. So they took the profits from their advertising efforts and, in September 1999, launched Heavy.com. "The launch of Heavy is what I'm proudest of," Assaad remarks. "When we started, nobody thought of the Internet as a broadcast medium."
Heavy's site is home to Heavy radio, which broadcasts music, too. Reportedly, the site gets 800,000 hits a day. This gets through to even the most brainless suit at Polygram. The labels love Heavy.
"We launched Fatboy Slim. We launched the Chemical Brothers," Assaad claims. Carson adds, "We try to focus on music that fits well with the brand. The Hives, a Swedish band, we're very interested in them right now. So we are going to play the hell out of them."
Assaad and Carson are naturally pleased that Heavy is on the way to becoming a subculture shibboleth. "I was in Australia a couple of months ago, wearing a Heavy T-shirt," Assaad says. Two guys stopped me on the street and said, 'you know Heavy!' That was very cool."
Heather Gold, founder of Subvert.com, will interview Heavy.com co-founders Simon Assaad and David Carson in a keynote conversation on "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Listening to Bankers" on Monday, March 11, 2:15pm.