Click to viewJulie Wainwright is back. The marketing brain behind the Pets.com sock puppet, Wainwright is now touting a me-too Web 2.0 site called SmartNow, which features user-submitted videos and articles from experts, targeted at women like Wainwright. But how many women are there like Wainwright, really?
But as Oprah proves, inspiration sells more ads than sob stories. What is the market for loser-generated content? That's what Wainwright is now testing.
Presenting herself as a heroine to the middle-aged estrogen set strikes me as deeply disingenuous. She may want to present her career as a triumph of girl power, but really, Wainwright's c.v. reads more like an example of the Peter Principle at work. A marketer at Clorox, Wainwright stumbled into the software business in the '90s, and a startup industry desperate for CEOs grabbed onto her. Reel.com, an attempt backed by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen to compete with Amazon.com in the video business utterly flopped; yet she parlayed her tenure there into a gig as CEO of Pets.com.
That's where the overpromoted marketer really failed. By buying television ads at a time when Internet access was not yet universal, she spent millions of dollars in venture capital on wasteful commercials that promoted the Pets.com sock puppet but didn't drive users to the website. The commercials did, however, fill up the telegenic spokes-CEO's clip file. She now takes credit for barely avoiding bankruptcy by shutting down Pets.com, neatly dodging the question of how it got to such financial straits in the first place.
Also lost in Wainwright's narrative: the two or three startups Wainwright has launched between Pets.com and SmartNow, only given the briefest of mentions in her LinkedIn profile.
With the bubble in social networking still frothy, and advertisers eager to reach women online, Wainwright will no doubt be able to flip her new startup to some buyer like Samir Arora's Glam Media, who will then offload it to an even greater fool. She'll no doubt account for it as a win. But even such a sale will not disguise this fact: Throughout her career, the only thing Wainwright has ever successfully marketed is herself.