Comcast To Shops: We’re Much More Than Cable

During a five-hour video-conference call last Wednesday to brief their five agency contenders, Comcast executives expressed a desire to strike an emotional connection with consumers and be seen as an entertainment company, not merely a cable firm, sources said.

The marathon call will be followed this week by work sessions with Omnicom Group’s DDB, based in New York, and Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco; Interpublic Group’s Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif.; and independent shop The Richards Group in Dallas.

Executives from Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York were also present on the call, but the shop was forced to drop out of the creative pitch, as the coming convergence of telephony and cable presented a conflict with client Nextel; the shop is not expected to be replaced in the review.

That conflict is indicative of Comcast’s direction. Besides cable and on-demand programming, as well as high-speed Internet, the Philadelphia-based company is expanding to include offerings such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service. And it wants to be viewed less as a utility and more as an essential part of life and entertainment, source said. Comcast recently invested $300 million to be part of a Sony-led consortium to buy MGM and owns stakes in channels such as E! Entertainment, Outdoor Life Network and several regional sports channels. “They want to get the credit for what they bring to you, rather than how you use it,” said one agency executive on the call.

Other agency executives either declined comment or referred calls to the client; a client representative would say only that the company had cut to a “handful” of finalists.

The new agency will be responsible for creating a brand campaign that can be used as an umbrella to advertise all Comcast products. Currently, each product is advertised separately.

Client evp of sales, marketing and customer service Dave Watson, vp of advertising and brand marketing Patty Miller and senior director of advertising and marketing John Young are leading the review.

With nearly 22 million subscribers in markets such as Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit and Seattle, Comcast is currently the country’s No. 1 cable company. But it is seeing increased competition from other cable companies, satellite TV providers and telecommunications companies, as many of them now have similar offerings.

“They’re asking, ‘What should we stand for?’ ” said one source. “What they are realizing is that a few years ago they didn’t have much competition.”

Any brand message will have to be translatable for individual markets and individual products, sources said. “They need an overall brand voice so that individual systems can either use that work or use it as strategic and creative cues for their efforts,” said one source.

The agencies have been asked to present media ideas as well, although media duties—handled in-house—are not in play.

During the call, there was no mention of an ad budget. Comcast spent nearly $120 million on advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. However, most of that covered local and regional marketing, which is not part of the review. That reality has left some of the agencies skeptical about just what the winner gets. “I’m not sure how high-end” this account will be, said one source.

Comcast’s current lead creative shop, Philadelphia independent Red Tettemer, is not participating in the review. The agency is likely to remain on a project basis, however.