Joy to the world, the browser has come.
Such is the holiday sentiment that nonprofit Mozilla Group is asking its customers to share in the name of promoting its latest open source Web browser, Firefox 1.5. The Mountain View, Calif.-based organization launched its first official marketing campaign ever on Wednesday, an initiative that will ask existing Firefox users to make short films about their experiences using the software to convince other people to try it.
Distributed freely and built with the help of open source devotees around the globe, Firefox has relied on word-of-mouth publicity to earn its spot on the browser landscape since launching on November 2004. With over 100 million downloads of the application to this point, the software has claimed roughly 10 percent of the overall market for browser technologies, according to Janco Research, Park City, Utah.
However, convinced that a more serious marketing effort will help Firefox claim a larger share of the browser sector from Microsofts Internet Explorer, which currently holds approximately 85 percent of market, Mozilla officials are going the route of their deep-pocketed competitors and actively trying to gain more widespread recognition.
Since the nonprofit relies on donations and a handful of relatively small distribution partnerships to generate income, Mozilla hasnt recruited a slick New York advertising firm to craft its public image. Instead, the company introduced an effort known as Firefox Flicks that seeks to tap into the loyal grassroots following that the browser has gained, by asking customers to share their thoughts on what makes the software so useful.
Much like Mozillas existing community marketing Web site, SpreadFirefox.com, which has been used by fans of the software to help generate publicity about the browser, company officials feel that people already using Firefox are best suited to tell its story to others, and a lot cheaper than hiring professionals. At one point the SpreadFirefox community even collected enough donations to place an ad about the software in the New York Times.
Company officials said that sort of devotion is better than any ad campaign it could dream up, and thats a big reason behind the grassroots initiative.
"We think we can build on the success of the community-based marketing that we did for Firefox 1.0, such as with the New York Times ad driven by the SpreadFirefox users," said Paul Kim, director of product marketing for Mozilla. "With Flicks, we want to take that to the next level; to operate in the same spirit of empowering people who are currently loyal Firefox users to tell other people why they love the product."
Earlier this month, Mozilla quietly launched the first phase of the Flicks campaign by putting up a Web site where Firefox users can record their own 30-second video testimonials, which have already been added by people from 20 different countries worldwide. Today, the group introduced the Firefox Flicks Ad Contest, which asks people, specifically aspiring filmmakers, to enter their testimonials in a competition to be considered for Mozillas further marketing plans, which will likely involve distribution of the user clips on the Web.
Mozilla also announced the judging panel for the contest, which it hopes will encourage even more people to participate in the effort in order to gain exposure to the experts, who include some of Hollywoods hottest content producers. The panel includes Jim Denault, cinematographer of HBOs hit show "Six Feet Under," McG, the director and producer of Fox TVs popular teen drama "The OC," and Warren Zide, who produced the hit comedy "American Pie." All of the judges, who also include "Six Feet Under" star Freddy Rodriguez, are also avid Firefox users, according to Mozilla.
Industry watchers agree that part of the problem with increasing the exposure of Firefox to the general public has been that the browser has largely appealed to people already working with open source software, and other professional developers. In order to expand its reach to more "average joes," said Kim, Mozilla may look to launch more traditional marketing efforts down the road.
"There are a number of fairly well-established routes to build awareness of a technology product among a general user base and were definitely trying to work with as many of those channels of communication as makes sense, given our resource level and overall objectives," he said.
In terms of funding its marketing efforts, Kim said that Mozilla would continue to use its regional partnerships with search giants Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. to gain exposure without making large-scale capital investments, in addition to collecting donations online.
Despite Firefoxs success in attracting new users over the last year, some analysts believe it will be hard for Mozilla to convince more people outside of its core user base to adopt the browser. Nate Root, analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research said it will be hard to push consumers to discard the Explorer application which comes preloaded as the default browser on all computers running Microsoft Windows, or most of the PCs shipped worldwide, in favor of something different that they need to seek out for themselves.
"Firefoxs primary audience has been Linux heads or other people who would do anything possible to stick it to Microsoft and go with a different browser, and tech hobbyists looking for the latest thing," said Root. "Once you run out of those two audiences, then youre faced with the prospect of going after the mainstream consumer audience or corporate America, both of which are infinitely harder to win over."