| Debbie Secor, sales manager, with co-founders Erik Vignau and Dennis Burger Jr. |
IMAGE: AMY OUELLETTE
Weird antique gramophone--SOLD for $1,875. Video-game console--SOLD for $130. Cabbage Patch doll--SOLD for $400. A camera lens, a saxophone, a creepy ceramic Eskimo doll...the TV spot proclaims all these SOLD via Bid Brothers, a local startup business.
Bid Brothers helps clients price and sell items on eBay, the online auction site. The Northwest Portland business takes a cut of the proceeds--which, the ad implies, means the Bros. care more than newspapers about clients' success.
The irony of this ad strategy is that, to hear Bid Brothers' founder Erik Vignau tell it, he never would have thought of it if it weren't for The Oregonian.
This fall, Bid Brothers ran ads in the O for two weeks. When Vignau called the O in November to renew and fine-tune his ad, however, the paper wouldn't call him back.
He finally spoke to Oregonian president Patrick Stickel, who oversees the paper's sales effort. "He said he didn't really want to comment too much, but said they had a right to refuse service to anyone," says Vignau. "He told me they viewed us as competition for their classified ads."
Vignau was puzzled. The Oregonian accepts ads from other consignment businesses. Owners of a couple of area furniture-consignment firms that advertise with the paper told WW they've never heard a hint of competitive envy in their dealings with the O.
Apparently, though, Bid Brothers' use of eBay makes all the difference. Stickle wouldn't comment. But the auction site, along with competitors like Craig's List, is widely thought to pose a threat to traditional classified revenues. In an October survey of 36 major newspapers by the consulting agency Classifieds Intelligence, all but two of the papers reported eBay and other online auctions had damaged their classifieds revenue.
Vignau says the rejection got him thinking. "We work with people who'd never place a classified ad, or be able to use eBay on their own," he says. About two days after Stickel ixnayed Bid Brothers' ad, Vignau says, he devised a new promotional strategy.
"We immediately honed our messaging," says Vignau--who, it should be noted, also worked hard to get other media outlets interested in his story. He says the TV ad will air five times a day during the first quarter of 2005.