An occasional report on experiments in marketing.

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The Emperor's New Clothes. "I've been told we're one of the first fashion companies on the Internet," says Greg Sovell, cofounder of 2(X)ist (pronounced "to exist"), a start-up underwear label based in Manhattan. If 2(X)ist is first, there may be a reason. Or 2.

2(X)ist has what's called a "home page" on the Internet's World Wide Web. On the Web you can retrieve text, graphics, sound, and real-time video. In theory, anyway. To read 2(X)ist's on-line catalog, double-click with your mouse on one of the attractive images on the home page. The high-resolution graphics in the catalog are great, when you can see them.

Get this: in its first month on-line, 17,551 people stopped to look at 2(X)ist's catalog. But the 14,300 with only "shell" accounts couldn't view the pictures. The 3,251 techies did see text and graphics, and 10 of them actually did order. Gee, even snail mail yields a better return. Perhaps Net heads aren't fashion-catalog shoppers?

Still, Sovell remains willing to pay the pioneer's price. "It's not expensive," he says. "Putting together the catalog cost less than $1,000." Digital Express (800-969-9090), in Greenbelt, Md., fashioned the catalog around 2(X)ist's already-scanned computer images. Sovell pays $100 a month to maintain the Web page. Eventually, he concludes, "I could be showing the catalog to 35 million people for $100 a month."

Vermont Teddy Bear isn't as bullish as 2(X)ist. Last May the Shelburne, Vt., direct marketer -- known for its radio spots -- floated an eight-page on-line "preview" catalog featuring bears in bikinis and other costumes. "Digital Equipment Corp. brought the idea to us" and paid for programming, says Vermont Teddy Bear staffer Chris Bethel. But DEC was no help when it came to marketing the Web address. A disappointing few saw the bikinis, and virtually no one ordered. The cybercatalog, says Bethel, "will probably die a quiet death."

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In the Suds. Some CEOs are way too shy to play spokesperson. And then there's Pete Slosberg, founder of the eponymous Pete's Brewing, in Palo Alto, Calif. In another life he worked for Rolm Corp. Now he stars in his own TV commercials. Last March he posed for a newspaper publicity shot in a bathtub, surrounded by his liquid assets. Slosberg's publicity pro, Kristin Seuell, brewed up the idea to celebrate one million cases sold. She filed the mug shot on the Business Wire's PhotoWire, which travels into digital darkrooms at 379 dailies as well as ABC and CNN. The caption: "Specialty brewers make it from bathtub to big-time."

The color photo was picked up by 35 papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Arizona Republic, and the Orlando Sentinel. The filing cost: $725. "It was worth every cent," says Seuell. Business Wire (see "'Tis Better to Give and Receive," [Article link]) is based in San Francisco; you can contact it by calling 800-221-2462.

Oh, and when Slosberg isn't posing, he's chatting on CompuServe's beer and wine forum.

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