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Capitol Records to Promote Using Instant Messenger

You might have thought it was just for socializing, but Capitol Records aims to turn instant messaging into a way to promote one of its upcoming album releases.

A deal with New York-based startup ActiveBuddy will allow Capitol to create an IM "bot" to promote the June release of Radiohead's upcoming "Amnesiac" through the largest IM platforms -- Yahoo!, MSN, America Online and AOL-owned ICQ. The Radiohead branded "bot" will launch at some point in June.

ActiveBuddy's virtual correspondent responds to natural-language queries, and for the Radiohead promotion, it will provide information in response to questions about tour dates, song lists, artist bios, album credits, and so on.

"One of the things that messaging does is that it works seamlessly with other media, like the Web browser," said the startup's chief executive, Peter Levitan, adding that the messenger could send links to other, richer information about the band, such as music clips or exclusive stories.

The EMI-owned label is no stranger to trying out new online technologies to market its bands. Last year, the label promoted Radiohead's release "Kid A" with a series of viral marketing initiatives, using under-the-radar tactics like branded "skins" for media players and providing downloads to file-swapping software like Aimster. And in the past, it's launched Web initiatives in support of Everclear, Duran Duran and Megadeth.

Labels often hold online chats to build interest about an upcoming release or performance. But the presence of an "always-on" entity that can reach potential consumers at any time of day makes an IM-based "virtual promoter" an intriguing proposition for entertainment marketers.

Indeed, Capitol is calling the Radiohead buddy "the most thorough and comprehensive source online and offline for accessing exclusive information and services related to the band and to the album."

More compelling still about the concept is the sheer reach of instant messaging services. IM is one of the most popular channels of Internet communication -- with recent Jupiter Media Metrix reports putting AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN's combined share of the pie at more than 50 million users.

That's in addition to the fact that the online marketing community has largely ignored IM as a promotional tool -- making the Radiohead effort both wide-ranging and unique.

"The Radiohead custom buddy is a fun, new and compelling way to deliver exclusive Radiohead music and information to their fans," said Robin Bechtel, who heads the label's new media unit. "By doing it through instant messaging, which is already an incredibly popular way to communicate, fans can get information about their favorite band as easily as chatting with friends."

The work for Capitol Records is the first from Alley-based ActiveBuddy, which said it hopes to continue the effort to other companies for promotional and CRM purposes.

"Capitol Records is the first to benefit from using ActiveBuddy's custom-build interactive agent technology to market one of their artists through Instant Messaging," said Levitan. "The Radiohead interactive agent is a great early example of how companies like Capitol Records can leverage IM to extend their relationships with their customers into the fastest growing segment of the Internet."

Pamela Parker, managing editor of Internet Advertising Report and ChannelSeven.com, contributed to this story.