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Craigslist Brand
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Craigslist - classified

by Abram Sauer
March 12, 2007

While the bastardization of a quote with so much Spielbergian, black-and-white weight may appear flippant, it is nevertheless accurate in the case of Craigslist: The list is life.

Craigslist's seventh-place finish in brandchannel's 2006 Readers' Choice Award (US & Canada region) results should come as a surprise only to my grandmother and a select few ranchers in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. It is arguable that of the top six brands that

finished with Craigslist—Apple, YouTube, Google, Starbucks, Wikipedia, and Target—Google and Craigslist are the two that consumers would not sacrifice at the cost of any other. How does a brand with a staff of only 20-odd people and revenues around US$ 25 million achieve such status?

The background of Craig Newmark and his list is now legendary. Started in 1995, the site is maintained by fewer than 30 people and makes money only by charging a (still below market rate) fee of between $25 and $75 for job and housing listings in cities such as New York and San Francisco. In these, and many of the other cities it services, Craigslist has become so successful as to threaten realty agents and newspaper classifieds. And this success can be summed up as "Free stuff that used to not be free." The site now records around five billion page views per month.

Craigslist is a brand at once simple in both function and form and at the same time massively complex. Its success in simple terms can be attributed to couches, employment, events, humor, housing, and (comparatively) effortless one-night stands—among a few hundred other categories. Serving around 450 cities worldwide, Craigslist is a one-stop shop for the wider, lower parts of Maslow's pyramid.

At the same time, Craigslist is far more than a portal for finding an apartment and selling your used sex toys. It is about a brand that can handle both of these requests satisfactorily while at the same time making both of these users feel equally engaged and comfortable. The site even inspired a 2005 film, 24 Hours on Craigslist. How many other brands have inspired films (that weren't historically gooey or consumer action-y)?

A perfect illustration of what the Craigslist brand is all about is the section titled "craigslist factsheet." It's a rare "about us" that's actually about them. It is literally a sheet of facts. It is not a hidden, footered, bottom-feeding link to a bunch of questions the site wishes a user would ask; it is, in fact, a sheet of facts that a user might actually want to know, as if saying to all other "about us-es": FAQ you. Prices, traffic, history—it's all there, just like the rest of Craigslist's services.

The reasons for the success of Craigslist as a brand that has won the hearts and minds of its consumers can be found in a June 2006 profile by the Wall Street Journal. Speculating that Craigslist could be making many times more than it does, the article cluelessly asks, "What kind of company turns up its nose at $500 million?" Its investigation into what kind of company does something so unimaginable goes on to dismiss Craig Newmark's thoughts on Internet business as "somewhat turbid, jargon-laden speech." Of course, what goes unrealized is that it isn't jargon if Craig actually follows through on what he says. In the same article, three paragraphs after being described as a turbid jargonist Craig says, "If it's not something the users are asking for, we don't consider it." Jargon indeed.

This ultimate failure of conventional business minds to understand what the true, non-jargon form of the term "iconoclastic brand" means in an increasingly consumer age (sorry Apple, but no) proves that Craigslist may never be truly be understood by the MBA mind. Nor will it make any sense to those focused on squeezing every last possible dollar out of the golden goose. But for them, as for everybody, Craigslist has a section: "rants & raves."

Craigslist is in many ways the ultimate brand and the ultimate brand's antithesis, existing only because of its usefulness, not because of marketing-plan-created need for its existence. If you think about it, Craigslist has existed forever, if in thousands of different forms.


Abe Sauer lives in New York City.

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