This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Virgin Gives It Away
Apr 11 2000 12:00 AM PDT

If you don't have a computer at home, but you otherwise live the "Virgin Lifestyle," this offer is for you. Virgin Megastores announced an ambitious program to give away 10,000 Internet appliances to people who don't mind having Richard Branson watching over their shoulders while they surf.

Virgin will select 10,000 customers for the giveaway from among applicants who fill out a detailed questionnaire. The winners' Internet appliances will dial up, whereupon the retailer will track their every online move.

If the initial giveaway is successful - that is, if Virgin can recoup its $4 million investment through targeted advertising and product revenues - then it will morph into a rent-to-buy program. Those enrolled in the program would pay $50 a year for ISP access; after three years, they would own the Internet appliance.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Julia Angwin concentrated more on the details of the consumer's online experience. Angwin noted that wherever a Virgin surfer goes on the Web, Virgin's logo and icons would frame each stop. In writing about the privacy implications of surfing in such a closely watched way, Angwin raised the specter of DoubleClick (DCLK). But she quoted privacy advocate Marc Rotenberg to lay the ghost to rest: "People have the right to give up their privacy if they wish, but they should know how the data are being used."

Virgin's marketing strategy - spending $400 each to acquire well-targeted, long-term customers - fits in with Jeremy Rifkin's view of the "age of access," as quoted in a weekend interview in the Mercury News. - Keith Dawson

Virgin's Mega-Marketing
The Industry Standard

Virgin Megastores Gives It Away

Virgin to Trade Web Use for Personal Information
Wall Street Journal
(Paid subscription required.)

Virgin Offers Internet Appliances for Data

QA With Jeremy Rifkin: Living in an Artificial World
Silicon Valley