By JASON BOOTH
“Animal House” goes Korean?
A wing of giant Hyundai Business Group has become the sole owner of Animalhouse.com, a Los Angeles Web site dedicated to the “social, cultural and educational needs” of university students. That may sound like an odd description for a Web site named after a movie that glamorized sloth, drunkenness and massive vandalism on an American college campus.
Hyundai took control of the site after buying out the interest of Universal Pictures, which had been its joint venture partner in the project. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Animalhouse.com was created last summer with the goal of becoming the news, entertainment and e-commerce destination for college students. Universal, which produced the hit film “National Lampoon’s Animal House” in 1978, lent the movie’s name to create a brand identity for the site.
David Hankin, a former executive with Sony Online Entertainment who was tapped by Hyundai to run Amialhouse.com, said Universal originally intended to create a relationship between the movie and the site. But that created problems; there was a concern that the tie could associate the site with the drinking and drug use portrayed in the film. That would scare away advertisers.
“In the U.S. there is a growing awareness about overindulgence in alcohol at university fraternities,” Hankin said. “There was a fear that public opinion would work against the site.”
That fear, combined with a lack of financial commitment from Universal, has resulted in the site becoming dull. “It’s bland,” he acknowledged.
That’s not scaring Hyundai. Officials at Hyundai Information Technology say that owning a U.S. Web site is a natural extension of the company’s Internet operation in Korea. It is also a way to gain exposure to the booming U.S. Internet market.
“This is a natural evolution for Hyundai. We want to have a presence here,” said Yunmi Kim, Hyundai Information Technology’s vice president for marketing in the United States.
U.S. college students are a notoriously tough market to crack less trusting of traditional advertising messages and more fickle in its choice of media than its predecessors. Given that environment, can a giant South Korean conglomerate be successful?
“I would expect that even an American company like IBM would have a hard time pulling it off,” said Barry Parr, director of e-commerce strategies at technology research firm International Data Corp. “In general I’ve been skeptical of demographically targeted sites. I don’t think people go online with the thought that they want to find a site aimed at them.”
He noted that the magazine industry has been trying for years to come up with a magazine for college students, with little success. Nonetheless, there are a host of Web ventures competing with Animalhouse to target the college generation.
“The last month or so there seems to be a host of college sites crawling out of the woodwork,” said Lisa Allen, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc.
Kim said that Hyundai decided to take full ownership of Animalhouse after officials realized it was impossible to manage the Web site in the way they wanted as a joint venture. The site could be used to market Hyundai products in the United States, and the unit might even go public in the future, Kim said.
In order to improve the site’s chances of keeping up with the tastes of college students, Hyundai is hiring a team of local Internet executives to run it, led by Hankin.
Hankin said he is considering dividing the site into two distinct units: one “vanilla” and the other irreverent. On the irreverent side, there may be greater reference to the “Animal House” film, but it would be mindful of the wishes of advertisers.