EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 956 - February 17, 2005     3 of 5 Hits Jackpot with eBay Strategy

By Jen Muehlbauer

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Las Vegas, arguably the offline gambling capital of the world, has its share of gimmicks. MGM Grand has real lions; Paris has a fake Eiffel Tower. The Golden Nugget has the world's largest, well, golden nugget. You've got circus acts, amusement park rides, and fountains in the desert, all begging you to part with your money at this gambling establishment, even though the slot machines are the same all over.

The online casino seems infected with the same over-the-top publicity bug. Most famously, it recently eBayed a $28,000 grilled cheese sandwich reputed to resemble the Virgin Mary. It's contemplating sending Cabbage Patch Kids into space. It closed out 2004 by spending more than $100,000 at online auctions in about a month.

When it starts buying exotic animals and chunks of gold, we'll know the offline expansion is coming.

Where did these people come from?

GoldenPalace is a Canadian gambling site with a business address in Antigua. It claims to be the #1 online casino. Regardless of motive, it seems they really have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for causes like multiple sclerosis, spinal cord research, and disaster relief.

The headline-grabbing antics began years ago, when someone at GoldenPalace must have read one too many manifestoes on "guerilla marketing" and began temporarily tattooing the casino's URL on the backs of boxers. By 2004, this had escalated into a GoldenPalace-emblazoned man streaking 2004's Super Bowl, the one better known for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe." The streaker wasn't televised, but still experienced a 380 percent traffic hike (and no FCC fines).

Still. So 70s. The superior publicity stunt - in terms of creativity, anyway - is GoldenPalace's more recent habit of buying extremely bizarre junk at auctions. (So bizarre one must wonder if it's all staged, but more on that later.)

Who would buy that? GoldenPalace would

There have long been web sites dedicated to weird rubbish sold at online auctions, and they'd better add dedicated sections if they intend to keep up.

Some of the purchases have had an altruistic bent, like the $10,000 dinner plate from the Titanic, whose seller was supposedly homeless, and the three Nintendo systems a Texas dad decided not to give his naughty kids for Christmas. GoldenPalace bought the Nintendos for $5,300, donated them to a needy family, and urged the seller to give his profits to charity.

Other buys are probably just fodder for free publicity (like this column), including a cane supposedly containing the ghost of the seller's father ( The seller claimed she sold it (final bid: $65,000) because grandpappy's ghost was scaring her five-year-old. On a smaller but no less baffling scale, there's the $29.99 outsized lemon, the $156 jumbo Frosted Flake (perhaps their next theme is big food?), the $1350 toy army, and the $31 "SCIENTIFICAL GHOSTIFFERATOR". I'd quote from the product description of that last one, but frankly, it doesn't help.

Some purchases have had a whiff of controversy. The New York Post reported that a Connecticut woman claimed to donate the domain name to a Canadian college student so he could raise relief funds, then was alarmed to see it on sale at eBay for a starting bid of $50,000. He wound up selling it for $10,000 to our casino buddies, and says he donated the cash. GoldenPalace also bought a bumper sticker reading "Frank Must Die" in a fundraising eBay auction for the family of a child with cancer who named his tumor "Frank." The casino's winning bid was $10,700, but the family rejected the bid, apparently because they didn't feel comfortable taking gambling money.

Combining aid and oddness, there's raft of charity auction items that GoldenPalace intends to shoot into space: celebrity shoes from the likes of Celine Dion and Jessica Simpson, a Cabbage Patch Kid in the image of Ellen DeGeneres, a soccer ball used by David Beckham. (GoldenPalace once talked about doing other charity fundraisers with the ball, such as allowing fans to kick it for cash, but I can't find any evidence that this ever materialized.) lists a summer 2005 launch for "Wild Fire Mark VI, a manned spacecraft built by the Space Program powered by the Da Vinci Project, slated for an unmanned test launch from the skies above Kindersley Airport in the Canadian town of Kindersley, Saskatchewan." This would appear to be for real.

And don't forget the mother of them all, the Virgin Mary grilled cheese. Seller Diana Duyser swears she made the sandwich 10 years ago, took one bite, and saw Jesus' mom staring back at her, and that the snack has remained miraculously mold-free ever since. After a road trip from Florida to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, the sandwich's next stop will be the World Grilled Cheese Eating Championship on February 12, 2005 at LA's appropriately wacky Venice Beach.

GoldenPalace, the mememaker

GoldenPalace and the online auction industry are giving each other pretty good publicity here, and the most interesting buys kick nascent eBay trends into high gear.

Since the Virgin Mary sandwich, we've seen auctions for Hello Kitty grilled cheese, ET's head on a piece of cereal, Howard Stern grilled cheese, Virgin Mary on a pancake, and Jesus on a fishstick. ("Sweet Jesus on a fishstick!" is my new favorite epithet.) The "miracle foods" phenomenon isn't new, online or off, but only GoldenPalace's sandwich has inspired this level of copycatting.

Likewise, since the ghost cane auction, eBay sellers have been flexing their creative writing skills crafting product descriptions for all manner of haunted horsepocky. You name it, it's got ghosts. Our favorite? The haunted milking stool. This is all legal and within eBay's rules as long as there's some sort of actual item for sale along with the myth.

It's become so mainstream even McDonalds has picked up on it, and a McD's Super Bowl commercial centered around an Abe Lincoln-resembling French fry being auctioned on Yahoo and bid on by...guess.

Too good to be true?

These dudes have a great sense of fun, but I reserve the right to exercise skepticism and occasional mockery. Here are my open questions for the GoldenPalace team:

Why is the grilled cheese seller's eBay account now NARU: Not a registered user? What'd she do? (EBay spokespeople never give us this kind of dirt.) Are we forgiven for wondering if she's really your CEO's cousin and the whole thing was staged?

Some other guy originally won the haunted cane. What happened with him? Was his really a false bid, as one article reported? His (positive) feedback for that auction says he "backed out." Did you make him an offer he couldn't refuse?

Is there any real altruism behind these charity-drive auctions, or is it just agenda item 3.6 in your marketing plan? Do the people responsible for these huge charity auction bids secretly slam the door on Girl Scouts and tell the homeless to get a job?

Why would a company this hungry for publicity consistently issue press releases with no contact information on them? (You might also ask why AuctionBytes doesn't hire better journalists, but I like my question better.)

Wanna buy some used CDs? It's for, um, charity. I just know LL Cool J is just dying to see a copy of "Phenomenon" shot into space with Cher's shoes.

About the author:

Jen Muehlbauer is a freelance writer and author of two O'Reilly books.

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