Myspace is like Yahoo–always getting lugged out as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong with Internet companies, how vulnerable they are to innovative forces like Facebook or Google. The Myspace star radiated brightest in 2005 when Rupert Murdoch tried to get social, buying the two-year-old network for $580 million. Like most of Mr. Murdoch’s wagers, this one looked good: Myspace was the most visited social network in the world for the next three years, briefly even overtaking Google as the most visited site in the US. But things turned disastrous with the emergence of Mark Zuckerberg’s little college project–and Myspace dropped users like a 21st century Atari. Two years ago the entertainer Justin Timberlake, along with Specific Media, picked up Rupert’s droppings, paying just $35 million for the privilege. (With Murdoch losing even more on the deal than he’s likely to surrender to Wendy Deng.)
Now Myspace is again trying to find a foothold, announcing a $20 million ad campaign to boost its brand. That is, as soon as it figures out what the brand is. Director of Marketing Christian Parkes told Adweek it’s “the people that make this brand.” But Myspace has yet to meet these people, hence the $20 million dollar cattle call. Being second or third in a business where the whole world is a potential customer can be pretty lucrative (as pre-Internet telecom also-rans, MCI and Sprint, could attest.) Myspace, now re-focused on music, still attracts some 25 million unique visitors a month. Facebook may snicker, but that’s no joke. That other cautionary tale people like to tie to the whipping post? For all it’s “failings” Yahoo attracts more users (700 million!) each month than Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter or Bing. That translated into more than $1.1 billion in revenue just last quarter. Timberlake and company are no doubt hoping they can fail like that. They’ve got a chance, too: the $20 million will buy an awful lot of ads on Facebook.