Fast Company

Innovation Wednesday: When Nabbr met Whateverlife

lilyjpeg.jpgYes, that's Lily Allen pictured on the right giving a sassy shout-out to Ashley Qualls and Whateverlife.com. The visa-challenged British pop star is personally thanking the little-known 17-year-old entrepreneur from Detroit because Qualls' site, featured in our September issue, attracts about 7 million teen girls a month, girls Allen is eager to reach. And in the music industry's ever-emerging world of online marketing (see also Musictoday from our February cover), Whateverlife is a player. Thanks to the New York startup Nabbr and its nifty video player.

Nabbr CEO and music veteran Mike More created a desktop video widget that you can download from one site and embed on another. For many teens having a music video on their MySpace profile is "like a poster on your bedroom wall," More says. Unlike my beloved R.E.M. posters in the early 80s, though, Nabbr's widget is an effective viral marketing tool. It immediately turns any MySpace page, any site for that matter, into another distribution point. Your friends download the video to their site, their friends share it with their friends, and so on and so on.

That's what happened when Nabbr introduced the widget, making its debut on Whateverlife.

After being hired by Columbia Records to launch an inexpensive online campaign to create Hanson Brothers-like buzz for the new group Jonas Brothers, More surfed MySpace to research the band's fans and discovered Whateverlife was a routine stop for free layouts. He asked Qualls, then 16, to feature the video player on her home page. She'd get paid based how many people took the widget elsewhere. In less than two months, Nabbr had 60,000 new distribution points for its video Mandy. The song eventually reached No. 4 on MTV's Total Request Live, despite no radio play. Zilch. That just doesn't happen, says Steve Greenberg, the former president of Columbia and the producer behind the Hanson Brothers. But it does now.

"That's what made the whole thing intriguing," says Greenberg. "This teenager girl in the Midwest got more views for our video than YouTube. Way more. It wasn't even close."

Whateverlife is now a key member of Nabbr's network of influential teen sites. "She's helped break Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and 30 Seconds to Mars," More says of Qualls. "She was instrumental in breaking Lily Allen." Which is why Allen thanked Qualls in a Nabbr video that appeared on Whateverlife. Fans, of course, shared the spot, spreading the word and giving Whateverlife instant cache. See how this works?

Greenberg is so convinced of Nabbr's role as a fast and cheap marketing vehicle for bands (and movies and shows and you name it) that when he left Columbia to start the indie label S-Curve Records, he bought a piece of the action. He's now a co-owner of Nabbr.

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