web hit

Market-savvy author's hip alter ego Vivian has millions of Internet fans, and almost as many products to hype.

October 23, 2003|By Gerald P. Merrell | Gerald P. Merrell,SUN STAFF

Every second of every day, hundreds of people enter a Web site awash in Pepto-Bismol pink and devoted to chronicling the life of Vivian Livingston, a young career woman in New York.

The founder of the site, Sherrie Krantz, a young professional herself, has been credited with tapping into the consciousness of women everywhere, and in the process catapulting Livingston to pop culture eminence.

One or the other, sometimes both, seem to be everywhere: New York magazine, People, YM, Marie Claire, the Boston Globe, Variety, USA Today and Washington Post.

What distinguishes the two is that Krantz is quite real; Livingston is conjured.

That the object of their affection is fabricated is of no more consequence to her legions of followers than it was to Seinfeld when regaling friends with Superman's exploits.

An average of 8 million people a month - sometimes as many as 12 million - visit Vivianlives.com. There, in a "journal" updated daily, they stay abreast of Vivian's career, love life, friends, aspirations, frustrations. They may tour her apartment to see the latest decorations, or enter a chat room, or receive advice on a myriad of topics ranging from careers to health to travel.

Vivian has become so popular that now there is a modest line of Vivian Lives merchandise, and Krantz recently completed the second volume in a trilogy for Ballantine Books based on her virtual creation. Her first book, The Autobiography of Vivian, was published a year ago and optioned in Japan, Thailand and China.

Krantz just returned from Southern California, where she met with network executives, hoping to revive interest in a television show centered on Vivian's life. She will be in Towson Sunday evening for Book Bash, promoting her latest book - Vivian Lives - to raise money for Literacy Works.

In analyzing her success, the question is: Does Krantz possess extraordinary ability to know what women are thinking and desiring, or is she simply a charlatan, like those who dominate late-night television?

The answer is, a little of both.

Given the huge numbers of people who are attracted to Vivianlives.com, it seems indisputable that Krantz is attuned to the needs and desires of some women. At the same time, she is a marketer extraordinaire.

Indeed. Vivian hawks more products than Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Tiger Woods combined.

Those reading Vivian's journal are not only sharing the most intimate details of Vivian's life, but they also are being bombarded with pitches to purchase everything from coconut moisturizer to Faith Hill's latest album to Ben & Jerry's ice cream to The Vagina Monologues.

In a journal entry dated Monday, Oct. 13, for instance, Vivian writes:

"My mom sent me a package and I was cautiously optimistic - 'cause mom never sends mail! But, I was shocked and awed to find my grandmother's gold charm bracelet! . . . I was dumbfounded: An heirloom. My-o-my! I'm so touched you guys! And nervous!"

The journal continues:

"I, of course, sent her a thank you note (rule #1) from this great web site called w.w.w.pulpfactory.com. You have to check it out! You can design and/or customize your own stationary, note cards, invites, etc. Too too cute and so easy!"

Vivian's journal, of course, conveniently provided the link to the Web site. It forgot to mention that the service costs $10 for six months.

Krantz has simply "come up with a creative venue for marketing products," says Janet Wagner, associate chair of marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

"I think they are having fun with it," Wagner says. "This is experienced marketing.

She says it's no different from the product placement that is common in films and television shows.

"Frankly, I don't think most people notice product placement in most cases," she says. "Let's say 2 percent of the people notice it, then it's pretty effective."

It wasn't intended initially to have Vivian be her gender's answer to Ed McMahon.

Krantz, 31, left a comfortable job as director of public relations for DKNY, the hip fashion designer and retail subsidiary of Donna Karan New York, to create Vivian and form her own business, Forever After Inc., the parent of Vivianlives.com.

Her idea was to develop her own line of merchandise and have as its spokeswoman the fictional Vivian Livingston.

"Originally, I thought I was going to come up with a line of very affordable, multifunctional accessories for women, like ... book covers, cell phone bags, condom cases, tampon holders - all of these weird things that we need," Krantz says. "When I thought about branding that line, I thought of creating a character who could be the spokesperson."

Krantz can't be accused of thinking small. Although her company wasn't even off the ground, she already was thinking of Vivian books, records, television, apparel and magazines.

The problem, though, was that the company had no merchandise to sell.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.