Campaign Finds a Powerful Friend in MySpace

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bich Ngoc Cao had been interested in the Darfur crisis since she took a class on the history of genocide at the University of Southern California. In May, she traveled from her home in Los Angeles to Washington for the rallies on the Mall.

When she returned home, she approached her employer to figure out if they could do something for the cause. Usually, such well-intentioned urges culminate with a big jar next to the office water fountain that accumulates spare change.

But if you work at MySpace, the Internet's most popular social-network site, with more than 100 million members and the corporate resources of media giant News Corp., you can think a little bigger.

Yesterday, MySpace launched its "Rock for Darfur" campaign to raise money and awareness for the situation in western Sudan, which the State Department has termed a genocide. More than 400,000 are dead so far, and more than 2 million Sudanese have been displaced by the Arab Janjaweed militia in what the United Nations has called an ethnic cleansing campaign against black Africans.

The MySpace campaign illustrates the potential of one idea -- from a 24-year-old employee, for example -- in a small company with enormous reach. In August, for instance, MySpace had 56 million unique visitors, according to ComScore Media Metrix. Despite its massive user base, though, MySpace still has a bit of a handmade feel to it -- Cao's younger brother, an art major, designed the logo on the Darfur page, she said yesterday.

Once thought of as a haven for teens and college students to display their pictures and talk about their favorite bands, MySpace has become an unrivaled marketing juggernaut, where politicians, product makers, filmmakers and up-and-coming bands post profile pages and promote themselves. Pages solicit "friends" from the MySpace network, who link to their pages. For marketers and advertisers, the network of youngish users -- traditionally, the most-valued because they are so hard to reach through mainstream methods, such as network television -- is a treasure trove.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought the MySpace parent company in summer 2005 for $580 million. Almost immediately, News Corp began making use of MySpace: The company posted a profile page for "X-Men: The Last Stand," a film made by News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox. The page attracted 3 million friends.

Cao has since left MySpace for a Los Angeles charity that urges companies to donate a percentage of their sales to the Global Fund to fight disease in Africa. But MySpace, a sponsor of Cao's new employer, kept working on the Darfur initiative after Cao left.

"One of the great things about MySpace is the site is huge . . . but because of its viral power, when we decide to do something, not only can we move quickly, but it can spread through the community with incredible speed," said Jeff Berman, MySpace spokesman.

The Darfur campaign centers on a series of money-raising concerts on Oct. 21, at several cities around the United States, featuring artists such as D.C.'s Citizen Cope, Ziggy Marley and Alice in Chains, with more bands promised.

The site, RockforDarfur , also includes a short film shot by George Clooney and his father, Nick Clooney, who traveled to Sudan and Chad to interview displaced Sudanese in the spring. The campaign has also signed Samuel L. Jackson for a public-service announcement to be shown before films made by 20th Century Fox. On the MySpace page, viewers can contribute to the Sudanese relief efforts of Oxfam America.

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