Weep not, my little sock puppet.
Friday the market slammed the door on the knuckles of the
poochie. Its IPO should have been a fuzzy-sweatered hug from a loving market that understands the Pets.com model and is enamored of its brand. Instead it looks like selling doggie squeak toys, or anything for that matter, to the burgeoning ranks of civilian Internet surfers amounts to a pile of doggie spit-up on Wall Street's carpet. When it comes to the Internet, Wall Street doesn't offer unconditional love.
Pets.com has a strategic marketing investment from
. Scrumptious backers included
Comcast Interactive Capital
. Its pedigreed bankers include
Thomas Weisel Partners
Warburg Dillon Read
. It was one of those destined-for-greatness plays birthed by the power people and groomed for IPO greatness in less than a year.
But no. No matter how faithfully Pets.com's marketing department retrieved our mental pipe and slippers, reminding us again and again that Pets.com is the name for pet supplies, investors kicked it in the ribs. The new shares traded up a measly 3 bucks before closing Friday right where lead underwriter Merrill Lynch offered them, at 11. It only took one more trading day to push Pets.com below the double-digit threshold to Monday's close of 8 31/32, a 19% one-day decline. Tuesday was just as bad: off 1 15/32, or 16%, to 7 1/2.
Why? Because business-to-consumer plays are the scaly rumped mangy mutts of the Internet investment kennel. Are you happy now?!
Wait a second while I blow my nose ... this has just come as such a shock to me.
From the moment I laid eyes on the sad-eyed, adorable little branding campaign, I was in love. Sure, lavish your attentions on
ads if you like pedigrees and high-culture butt-sniffing. But I'll take the kindergarten-designed Pets.com puppy on TV advertising's heavy rotation any day.
With a watch for a collar and a surfer accent, that wisecracking sock spokespuppet had hit its mark. You want the Pets.com target demographic, you're looking at a bull's eye.
The only glitch here is that I don't own a pet.
But I loved the ads! Pets.puppy dropping off cat food to a fine pride of housecats, hitting them up for weekend dates like a cheap drunk at a dive bar. Pets.puppy complimenting the hairy gams of the package-delivery guy in his van.
Pets.puppy quoting Joseph Conrad's
Heart of Darkness
at the spruced-up carcasses of fellow socks strung around a family's chimney at Christmas. Better delivery of "the horror" than Marlon Brando, if you ask me.
Dear God in heaven, if there had been any justice in this criminal Internet marketplace, Pets.com would have bounded out of the IPO gates like a 6-month-old Labrador whose master just got home from work. Internet consumer plays are all about branding, right? They're all about name recognition. I've heard of
, which has a partnership with physical-world pet store chain
but is not represented by the doglike "PETM" stock. What have the brick-and-mortar brands done for me lately, branding-wise? I have some vague recollection of the Hi-Pro Glow. My mind is dredging up a very stupid-looking golden retriever with perfectly coifed loins.
But I couldn't describe the personality of the Alpo Cycle 9 for older dogs if you strapped me to a parking meter with plastic ties and got out the tazer.
OK, it was that sad, old beagle. But I only knew because I was under duress!
I love the Pets.com puppy more than I could ever love
. More than a psychedelic
purple swirlie. More than all those other
what? OK, those
ads are funnier than plastic dog refuse, but there's no one spokesperson, let alone spokes-animal -- a genre unto itself in the advertising world.
But does that really matter? Pets.com will be sulking behind the couch for the next few weeks, wondering what precipitated a smack from investors with a rolled-up newspaper. It did everything a good consumer-focused Web site should do. It lost $63 million since its February 1999 inception. It used that money to create a name and face we could love, spending $1 million in its first quarter, $11 million in its second and a rousing $31 million in its third quarter, which overlapped with the crucial holiday calendar.
And we turned around and threw a shoe at the sock puppet. The horror.
Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in TheStreet.com. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She waits breathlessly for your feedback at