World: Stuart Elliott in America

Superman has conquered just about every medium there is, from comic books and radio to TV and movies. Now, he is boldly going where no Man of Steel has gone before: to the internet.

Superman is the co-star of an extensive, and expensive, campaign from American Express that reunites him with the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Six years after Seinfeld appeared with an animated Superman in a Super Bowl commercial, the pair join forces for another funny adventure that this time isn't available anywhere on TV. Instead, the four-minute "webisode" can be seen only on the Amex website, at

"Why on the web?" John Hayes, the chief marketing officer at Amex, asked rhetorically at a news conference last week in New York. "Because that's where people spend lots of time these days," he replied, and thus it's where Amex "can engage prospects" for its financial services.

Engaging consumers with brand-based entertainment, so they'll perhaps be more inclined to become customers, is the idea behind internet-only campaigns such as Amex's. The web commercial is sure to appeal to fans of Seinfeld and his eponymous sitcom since it's infused with the observational humour that has made him among the most popular comedians ever. And the product plug, for the Amex green card, is woven unobtrusively into the plot, which offers a fanciful look at the odd-couple friendship between Superman and Seinfeld.

The most notable webisodes, and arguably still the best, were the BMW Films from 2001, which were shot to resemble mini-movies and appeared only on BMW of North America's website.

Three years later, that series of web commercials remains topic A when it comes to assessing marketers' efforts to use the internet as an "advertainment" medium.

For instance, in a review last month in Advertising Age, the critic Bob Garfield couldn't help but compare the BMW Films and the new webisode for Volvo, "The Mystery of Dalaro", created by MVBMS Fuel Europe. His verdict: "BMW Films may or may not be on to something, but this Volvo entry is a day late and a Dalaro short."

Amex would welcome such a thumbs-down for its web commercial about as much as Superman would welcome a chunk of kryptonite crashing through the roof of his Fortress of Solitude. That's especially true since a second spot, also with Seinfeld and Superman, has already been scheduled to go up on its website next month. So Amex and the various agencies working on the campaign, including Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide,, Digitas and MindShare, are making, er, superhuman efforts to ensure its success.

Teaser commercials featuring banter between Seinfeld and Superman are running on TV, to be followed by newspaper and postcard ads. Seinfeld and the film director Barry Levinson (Diner, Tin Men), who makes his Madison Avenue debut directing the webisodes, joined Hayes at the news conference to promote the campaign. (Superman, alas, couldn't make it.)

Seinfeld subsequently took part in a publicity blitz that included appearances on shows such as Today, Extra and Access Hollywood. He guaranteed himself, and Amex, vatsful of ink by hinting during one interview that he's considering a return to TV.

With the PC added to the TV, Seinfeld will be master of two domains.


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