Desperate Dotcoms

Sunny Slogans Mask Huge Losses

The ad buyers call their strips "virtual storyboards" and "virtual exhibits." They use argot like "impactful," "aspirational," "optimistic," "nurturing," and "edgy." They employ the word "captive," "but not in the negative sense." They do press interviews in groups, on speakerphones, with public relations people in the room. They write ads in which ironically out-of-place models beg, "Please make my band famous so I can be a sell out" over lime neon.

"In New York we're a little more open, crazier, more cutting edge," says Britt Ehringer, Soundbreak.com's creative director, from the company's office in West Hollywood, where the start-up runs a virtual radio station with a 24-hour live feed and, according to its SEC filing, pays about $36,000 for monthly rent. "What we do we can't explain in seven words or less, so we need to grab their attention, to pique their interest. . . . I wanted irreverence and humor. Get them to laugh or chuckle and they're on your side."

Merely tickling commuters may not be enough. Acacia Research, the West Coast tech incubator that funds Soundbreak and its advertised "aural pleasure," hurls fistfuls of cash at new media ventures. But it keeps a clear head as to where its money goes. "We generally invest in start-up ventures with no operating histories, unproven technologies, and/or products," the company reports to the SEC. "Because of the uncertainties and risks associated with such start-up ventures, our investors should expect losses, which could be significant, associated with any possible failed venture." Later, it adds, "We cannot provide assurance that Soundbreak.com will generate revenues or achieve profitability."

No "aural pleasure" there.

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