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Scott Adams using strip to launch new business

dilbert-dilbertfilescom

Dilbert creator Scott Adams continues to push the Dilbert brand into new markets. Scott’s latest business is a file transfer service called “Dilbertfile.com” which allows users to upload large files (that can’t be sent through email) that then can be downloaded later by another user. Scott wrote on his blog back in November that he often used such services to send his art files to his syndicate and approached the tech company behind the service and worked out a deal to brand it with Dilbert characters.

To promote the new product, Scott has used his comic strip to pitch the product – irking some readers that felt Scott has crossed a line. TechFlash, a technology news blog, wrote a post wondering if newspapers will take kindly in allowing Scott to use their newspaper as a marketing ploy. They note that papers won’t allow a journalist to plug a personal project in their articles.

Scott did respond to the TechFlash post in an email, part of which is cited below:

If you’re writing about it, I’m doing my job. Actually, lots of people are blogging about it today because I intentionally violated what readers perceive as a boundary. That’s what I do, on a good day. I haven’t heard any complaints from newspapers. They would have complained in advance if they had an issue, since they see the comic a week or two before it is published. And frankly they know I push some boundaries.

As an advertisement for Dilbertfiles.com, I expect it to have a trivial impact, so no need to hate me on that level. As a creative violation of what readers expect of a comic strip, it’s an attention-getter. The fun part was seeing how many people checked the Dilbertfiles.com URL to see if it was real.

The first rule of art is that you want to make the audience “do something.” That could include laughing or crying, but it can also include talking about the art with friends, forming a book club, or in this case trying to figure out if what I did was clever or foolish. I did anticipate a strong reaction.

Using a strip to pitch a side product isn’t entirely new. In the last couple of years, Dean Young used his Blondie strip to mention his new Dagwood sandwich franchise and Michael Fry and T. Lewis mentioned their movie Over the Hedge in their comic of the same title before it was released. Of the two examples cited above, Dean received at least one complaint.

Community Comments

#1 Norm Feuti
January/22/2009
@ 11:30 am

I’m less interested in the real business than I am in whether this is going to be an actual sea change in the strip itself. Is this just a temporary story, or is Dilbert going to be an entrepreneur from now on instead of an office drone?

#2 jesse
January/22/2009
@ 11:31 am

I saw this the other day. Pretty shameless on Scott Adam’s part.

#3 Phil Tography
January/22/2009
@ 3:29 pm

What Adams did was no different then the plugs Hollywoods actors do during awards season, giving free plugs to the clothing designers (like anyone else could afford to buy these clothes). Jack and Carol Bender did the same thing, using alley Oop to have kids send in oroginal art work, though it was in celebration of the strip’s 75th anniversary. Got to wonder how many readers got the connection. …

#4 Alex Hallatt
January/22/2009
@ 3:54 pm

I guess Adams doesn’t respect his newspaper clients enough if he expects them to not only give him advertising space, but pay him for the privilege. It is one thing to plug a spin off book, but quite another to promote a different business!

#5 Anne Hambrock
January/22/2009
@ 3:59 pm

I think our paper deleted the name of the business and the strip just read “my side business is getting lots of attention”. I’ll have to go back and check. Did anyone else notice this happening in their paper?

(all you dinosaurs like me who still read print!)

#6 Tom Wood
January/22/2009
@ 4:55 pm

The fun part was seeing how many people checked the Dilbertfiles.com URL to see if it was real.

The first rule of art is that you want to make the audience ?do something.?

Scott’s attitude toward his audience can be maddening. He frequently asks his blog readers to respond to some new obsession, ending the blog post with “Go.” as if the reader is obligated to dance monkey dance. (A phrase he himself used to describe his interaction with atheists who disagreed with his take on evolution, or some such.) So it should be no surprise that he would extend that willingness to mess with his audience to the comic strip.

#7 Josh McDonald
January/22/2009
@ 7:03 pm

” The first rule of art is that you want to make the audience ?do something.? ”

Except, when what you want to make the audience do is check out your new business venture, that’s called advertising.

#8 Tom Heintjes
January/23/2009
@ 8:24 am

Scott’s always been pretty up-front about his drive to succeed in business…dilbertfiles.com is just another manifestation of that drive. Any remember the “Dilburrito”?

#9 Ted Dawson
January/23/2009
@ 11:01 am

Need… more… money…

#10 Jesse Cline
January/23/2009
@ 11:28 am

“Any remember the ?Dilburrito??”

Oh god, thats right!!! I actually ate one of those years ago! The dining hall was trying them out, and if I remember correctly it had lima beans in it. BARF

#11 Wiley Miller
January/23/2009
@ 12:35 pm

The difference is, I don’t believe he advertised the Dilburrito in his comic strip. It will be interesting to see how editors take this, as they have always been rather touchy about such things in the comics in the past. When the internet first started up, and Scott was on the forefront of it in the comics, editors didn’t even want us to put our e-mail address on the strips, as they thought it was somehow giving something away. The same thing a little later with putting a URL on the cartoons. They took that as free advertising, thinking we were getting rich off of it.

When I came out with my first children’s book, my publisher (Scholastic) wanted me to put something in my strip advertising the book. There was no way, I explained, that editors were going to put up with that, and for a very valid reason… they make their money off of advertising, and they’re not about to give it away. I see this as being a direct ad within the strip, and I’m guessing editors are less than pleased about it. But what can they do other than scream at the syndicate? Their only option is to cancel the very popular strip or to simply not run the editions relating to Dilbertfile.com.

Like I said, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

#12 Rich Diesslin
January/23/2009
@ 1:38 pm

Anne, they ran it unadulterated in our paper. I solution your paper came up with certainly is interesting. Do you think they altered the cartoon or the syndicate had an alternate available if asked? Seems like someone would have a problem with altering the wording without some kind of permission (as well as the reverse about advertising without it).

Wiley, I would have guessed the same thing regarding advertising a book. It’s a weird double-standard in the media … since folk’s, being interviewed on the news, “credentials” are often a plug for something they’ve written or their business, but let the average Joe try to plug something and it’s a different ballgame. Same with the show hosts (esp. tv and radio) … seems they can plug their stuff all day long and seems not to be a problem – sometimes it seems to be a measure of their ratings. I guess somewhere along the line, the newspapers have to make their advertising money. I would say the Diltbertfiles thing crossed that line though. Maybe it was just taking advantage of editors who are already beaten to death by offensiveness issues and just don’t want to fight the little battles???

#13 Mike Peterson
January/23/2009
@ 3:26 pm

I was out of the daily newspaper biz by the time Ordinary Basil came out, but I’d have been happy to do a feature story about a fellow who draws a cartoon for our paper and has this new book. And if it came across pre-written by the syndicate with some nice illustrations, hey, that’s fine, too. I would have felt the same way about running a piece about Scott Adams setting up this new web product. (Less so about Dean Young and his sandwich shops if there wasn’t one opening in our market.)

But don’t be a sleazeball and slip plugs into your comic strip, because it insults my intelligence.

#14 Anne Hambrock
January/23/2009
@ 4:28 pm

Rich,
Well I went back and checked the one that ran in my paper and I misspoke. It turns out my paper ran the cartoon intact after all. I guess it shows you the lack of effectiveness for Scott’s ploy in that I breezed right over the reference when I read the strip (didn’t look up the thing on the internet or anything!) and couldn’t even remember reading it in the copy two days later. Of course that could be more a reflection of my overcrowded aging brain than any lack on the part of the cartoon!.

I noticed it appeared again in today’s paper but I doubt I would have paid any more attention to it than last time if it weren’t for this thread.

#15 Anne Hambrock
January/23/2009
@ 4:33 pm

Rich, in response to your other point, all King comics are reviewed extensively for grammar errors, syntax, spelling and offensiveness of language by the company that preps the strips for publication. There have been occasions when a strip comes out in the paper with changes from our original copy as a result. I assume the other syndicates all follow the same formula so changes could have been made to Scott’s copy if anyone had thought it to be a big problem.

Papers also always have the option not to run a strip if they have a problem with it.

#16 roger maynard
January/26/2009
@ 8:04 pm

Isn’t it funny how we cannibalize one of our own for finding a way to make more money when so many cartoonists are struggling from being laid off.

The bottom line is, does Dilbert help sell newspapers? If this little bit of controversy (and it IS little) causes more readers to stop and pay attention to Dilbert, then it’s likely that editors will not see it as a negative.

So the bottom line is what the readers think. My guess is that this might be productive for Scott just about once. Too much, or too many comics trying the same thing will eventually drive readers away.

Have fun, Scott — it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

#17 Tony Carrillo
January/31/2009
@ 12:57 am

I say, as long as it’s still funny, who cares if it’s selling something? We all love funny Super Bowl ads, right?

And it was funny.

Don’t forget to pre-order the new F Minus book, available now on Amazon.com!

#18 Mark Tatulli
January/31/2009
@ 9:03 pm

With all due repect, Tony, and while I appreciate your desire to advertise your book, that Amazon statement wasn’t funny.
Could you punch that up or something?
Thanx!

#19 Tony Carrillo
January/31/2009
@ 10:58 pm

I don’t understand what you’re trying to say, Mark. Could you re-submit your comment using only pictures?

#20 Mark Tatulli
February/1/2009
@ 10:07 am

OK, I’ll put it on my schedule. Will get back to you ASAP. Thanx!

MT

#21 Quint Nelson
February/1/2009
@ 1:35 pm

Dilbert’s success has been a benefit for newspapers for many years. The fact that Scott Adams used one strip to promote his web site has resulted in so many editors and creators to “get their panties in a bunch” is laughable.

It’s a brave new world folks, you better learn to live in it. Newspapers are obviously having a hard time doing it….adapt or fade away.

#22 Mike Cope
February/1/2009
@ 2:51 pm

Quint, with all due respect to how things may look on the outside, some things will NEVER fade away …

My humble 2 cents.

Hmm … I wonder how much Scott would charge to rent some advertising space on his strip? Damn, I should’ve given Dilbert a cameo!!

#23 Wiley Miller
February/1/2009
@ 2:52 pm

“The fact that Scott Adams used one strip to promote his web site has resulted in so many editors and creators to ?get their panties in a bunch? is laughable.”

Just who’s “panties are in a bunch” over this? There’s simply a discussion on whether or not it’s ethical. Or is the lack of ethics part of this brave new world you mentioned?

#24 Matt Bors
February/1/2009
@ 3:32 pm

Some very popular strips exist merely to drive demand for ancillary products; plush toys, animations, et al. The strip itself is seen as an ad by the creator and syndicate.

Some strips are treated like factory products by syndicates. After the creator dies, the strip is carried on, with or without crediting the new artist and writer.

Is it in this environment we are talking about the ethics of the comics page?

#25 Mike Lester
February/1/2009
@ 4:04 pm

I’m watching SuperBowl non-football pandemonium and the band “Journey” starts singing, “DON’T STOP BELIEVIN'” and the lead singer is the musical equivalent of a legacy comic strip: an oriental Steve Perry! When did this happen and where’d SP go? Got to start listening to something other than Bowie.

#26 Bearman
February/2/2009
@ 6:51 am

Mike, he’s been gone for 10 years. Maybe if MTV still played videos you would know that. The replacement (which eerily sounded like Perry) was found on YouTube.

#27 Wiley Miller
February/2/2009
@ 7:50 am

“Is it in this environment we are talking about the ethics of the comics page?”

Nope. Those are entirely different, and quite valid, questions of ethics, Matt.

#28 Edwin Skizmhands
April/20/2011
@ 8:18 am

Wow, lots of complainers here. A perfect snap shot of what the American people have become; a bunch of whiners who think if something doesn’t go there way, it is wrong and they should be apologized to.

Big deal, so he pitched his business in his comic strip.

Big deal. Get over it.

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