Firefox's Times ad late as 10 million downloads near

Flush with cash from Firefox fans, Mozilla is now aiming to run its full-page New York Times ad by Christmas.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
As the Firefox browser prepares to pass its 10 million download mark, the New York Times ad that was supposed to follow its launch has yet to be seen.

The ad appears to have become a temporary victim of its own success. The Mozilla Foundation's novel fund-raising campaign to run a full-page ad listing financial contributors rocketed past expectations, attracting so many donors that Mozilla is still struggling to fit their 10,000 names on the advertisement.

Rob Davis
Mozilla volunteer

"It's taken a little longer than we'd originally planned," said Rob Davis, a Mozilla volunteer in Minneapolis who spearheaded the ad effort. "We'd hoped the ad would have run by today, but it's turned out that it's not a three-week process to get all this stuff together; it's a four-week process."

Now Davis hopes the ad will run midmonth, or by Christmas at the latest.

Heads are unlikely to roll because of the delay. Davis, an account director at Minneapolis-based boutique marketing firm Haberman & Associates, is a volunteer with the foundation, though Mozilla is compensating Haberman for some of Davis' time and expenses while he works on the Firefox campaign.

The ad, according to Davis, is geared less to the Web-surfing public at large than at the community of Mozilla volunteers who have rallied around the increasingly popular alternative to Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer browser.

While Microsoft has maintained an overwhelming lead in the browser market, it has slipped incrementally since Firefox started circulating in prerelease versions. Last month, a survey showed IE slipping below 90 percent for the first time in years.

The trouble for Mozilla's ad campaign is that about 1,000 of the contributors didn't follow instructions in submitting their names. Now Davis is going through the list manually and contacting contributors who submitted Web addresses, company names, joke names and the like to clarify how they want to be listed in the ad.

"While that is well and good for some other campaign, I and the rest of the Mozilla community really wanted to demonstrate grassroots human personal support for Firefox and not have anyone try to upstage the ad," Davis said.

Further complicating Mozilla's task is the fact that 10,000 names take a lot of computing firepower to render and edit. Every time Mozilla designers make a change, no matter how subtle, they sit back and watch their computers think for 15 minutes, Davis said.

The New York Times provides a discount for nonprofit advocacy messages. According to Davis, the Times will offer Mozilla that discount, along with another cost-saving option to place the ad on a standby basis, which means the Times could run it any day over a two-week period.

Davis expects the ad to cost Mozilla less than $50,000.

The Times declined to confirm that estimate, instead referring queries to the newspaper's 2004 rate book. Times spokesman Toby Usnik said that while Mozilla is a nonprofit, it provides a "business service" and as such will likely be charged the business rate, or more than $130,000.

But Davis said the Times sales staff assured him that if the ad's message hewed closer to advocacy than commerce, Mozilla would get the nonprofit rate.

Davis said Mozilla is still finalizing the text that will accompany the 10,000 names, but that the message will "champion innovation and Firefox."