NEW YORK For big marketers, using a mix of nontraditional communications channels is nothing new, but there is growing evidence that what was once considered experimental consumer outreach is fast becoming mandatory strategy.
From packaged-goods marketers to automotive companies, heavy reliance on TV is being reconsidered, as tactics previously seen as ancillary grow into mainstream priorities. Recent Adweek interviews with executives associated with a dozen major brands, which collectively spend more than $9 billion annually in major media, revealed that such clients are rethinking not only how they use TV, but are also upping the ante on emerging media, such as viral campaigns, wireless messaging, blogs and podcasts.
This week, for instance, Acura launches its first turbo-charged crossover vehicle, the RDX, with a program that combines elements of viral, Internet and mobile marketing. The effort encourages consumers to take pictures of the car's print ads ("image tagging") and upload them to Acura's Web site, where image-recognition software will enter those participants into contests, send them e-vites to events and offer them ringtones.
Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, sat out of network TV's upfront market this spring in part to expand a more customized four-year-old programming deal—whereby the client funds production and sponsors certain shows—with Time Warner.
Even mass-media stalwarts, such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Chrysler, acknowledge that a consumer conversation must extend beyond the 30-second TV spot: They are steadily spending more on online and wireless efforts, with those budgets expected to grow in 2007.
"The main driver behind our increased interest in this area is the amount of consumer pull," said P&G representative Jeannie Tharrington. "Consumers want more customization and more personal communication from us that is tailored to their specific needs. They are looking for this information via the Web, their mobile phones, and other new technology as well."
Said Christine MacKenzie, vice president of sales and marketing, corporate research and reporting at Chrysler: "It's absolutely more complicated, with niche audiences to respond to." Describing today's array of media options as a "bowl of spaghetti," she added: "Nothing is linear anymore. Used to be a 30-second [spot] on TV, print, and you were done."
For P&G's Folgers brand, the company recently launched a "Tolerate Mornings" initiative in the U.S. that has a Web application, which uses a short film, screen saver and "boss tracker" downloads, as well as a mobile component that sends a wake-up call to consumers' phones.
P&G considers the campaign a success: It has received over 100,000 hits to the Web site, toleratemornings.com, and the film has been viewed several hundred thousand times on other sites like YouTube.com. (Mainstream media like The New York Times, CNN and CNBC have generated publicity through their coverage.)
At Chrysler, the "Ask Dr. Z" campaign represents the company's future of brand integration, said MacKenzie. It uses magazines, dealer promotions, newsprint and TV as well as guerrilla tactics like banners, Dr. Z 'prescription pads' with cute sayings and billboards on roving trucks. Within the first two days of the campaign launch, Chrysler saw a significant spike to brand site traffic: Visits increased 22 percent, and leads rose 31 percent.
However, of these examples, it may be J&J's efforts to strike a new non-network deal that is the most significant arbiter of a more personalized future for mass marketers. "It has gotten to the point where everything is content," said Jan Leth, co-chief creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather. "The only criteria are if it is interesting or relevant to me."
J&J's "Spotlight Presentation" programming effort, which began as a means for the client to produce "family-friendly" movies to run on TNT, will likely expand to include AOL, Time Inc. and the new CW network, said one source. Besides J&J and the four units of Time Warner, the parties involved are said to include Magna Global Entertainment, Universal McCann and Time Warner Global Marketing. The new deal is expected to run three years.
A budget for the effort could not be ascertained, but one source suggested it would be in the tens of millions of dollars and "considerably more" than the estimated $20 million that J&J invested in its original J&J-TNT deal, which was struck in 2002.
It is one example of a big marketer "leaving money back" to invest in a long-term, cross-channel deal, the source said. The new deal is still in the works and is expected to launch in the fourth quarter. Calls placed to J&J global media chief Kim Kadlec were returned by a J&J representative, who declined to comment on "speculation."
TV is far from dead, but it is online budgets that are growing by leaps and bounds.
This year, Coke will spend 80 percent more online than in 2005, when online spending jumped 250 percent, according to company rep Susan McDermott. That number will rise again in 2007, though McDermott wouldn't reveal specifics.
At Coke, the question is, "'How can we marry online with TV, print, outdoor and make them all work together?'" said McDermott. "Television is not a dying medium. It's a matter of how to do it smarter."
McDonald's, which like Coke still considers TV a "main outlet" that is "core" to its marketing plan, is currently experimenting in New York with a couponing program in which a message will arrive via a cell phone for a special deal, said Anje Carroll, director of U.S. media. The message recipient can show the message at a restaurant and get the deal. "The mantra of our media agencies is, 'Stay ahead on the emerging technologies, but don't forget the traditional media,'" Carroll said.
Other large marketers, which are redefining the role of TV in their media use, even as they change the elements in the mix, include:
-- IBM during the past two weeks launched two new podcast series, bringing its total to about a dozen; all were created in the past 12 months. Each series addresses a business topic, such as technology tips on computer security, and disseminates information free to the outside world. IBM also manages some 350 blogs to communicate with customers and potential customers. Collectively, the blogs and podcasts position IBM as a thought leader in a "self-publishing world," and as such, serve to build the brand, the client said. In fact, podcast leaders and bloggers must adhere to internal written guidelines. "Every individual who works for IBM has to carry responsibility for the brand and has to promote the brand," said Ben Edwards, IBM's manager of new media communications. "The reality we all face is that communications are increasingly going to be by individuals to individuals rather than some kind of corporate or institutional communication. People prefer that because they trust each other."
-- HP, for which Goodby, Silverstein & Partners created a forthcoming pitch using ad copy and consumer-controlled animation for the Internet, as part of its broader campaign, "The computer is personal again." Consumers are able to make their own HP "spots" by uploading a photo of their face, selecting the ad copy that suits their lifestyle and gestures that match their personalities. Personiva software then animates the consumer's mouth and synchronizes it to the voiceover copy for the illusion of a spot with their endorsement. "It's beyond Clutch Cargo," said Steve Simpson, partner and co-creative director at Goodby. "It's an unusual effect."
-- The American Legacy Foundation is airing a co-branded Fuse series, Warped: Inside & Out, a six-part weekly show on that cable network. Playing off American Legacy's orange "Truth" truck, the client is billing the branded-entertainment vehicle as "an alternative to the 30-second spot." The show, which runs through Aug. 23, chronicles, in documentary fashion, the Vans Warped Tour 2006, an alternative music and extreme sports festival. Each episode integrates Legacy's "Truth" brand by featuring the foundation's signature truck and crew members, who travel with the tour and engage teens first-hand on the dangers of smoking and the marketing tactics that cigarette companies use.
-- Audi, which has won acclaim for reaching beyond the 30-second TV spot with its Web-driven "The Art of the H3ist" pitch for its A3 model, two weeks ago launched a campaign for its new Q7 SUV that features 90-second branded vignettes about sites in the Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket that run on Plum TV, a two-year-old cable channel that reaches those markets. Each vignette shows Travel + Leisure senior editor Nilou Motamed driving the SUV to a site and ends with Audi's logo and Web site address, where the pieces can be downloaded and distributed electronically. A corresponding print execution in Travel + Leisure takes the form of a two-page "advertorial." "It's all part of the media budget and rather than just do this flat national buy, we do this targeted 'acupuncture' approach," said Stephen Berkov, director of brand marketing and innovation at Audi.
-- Foster's online "Crack open a friendly" campaign from Ogilvy seeks to use video in a more cost-effective, interactive way through broadband versus TV. With a smaller budget than many of Foster's competitors, Ogilvy created a series of videos that launch Aug. 16 on Heavy.com. Via "The Massive Mating Game," users can win a date with one of 10 Australian models if they answer a text-message quiz about the videos. Ogilvy also created videos around the campaign's theme that it will seed on Heavy, YouTube and elsewhere online. The effort is designed to reach a younger male target of 21 to 31. It's a more efficient use of video for a brand that spent only $5 million in major measured media last year.
-- T-Mobile's Sidekick, which previously used TV to promote the brand, takes those visuals online in a campaign, via Publicis West in Seattle. The pitch centers on a microsite, sidekick.com, that supports the latest version of the device, the Sidekick 3. Publicis convinced the client to do a completely online advertising effort because "that's where the young and social target market for this product lives," said David Kim, interactive creative director at the agency. The core target is 16-to-28-year-olds. "Our target audience is a heavy online community. It's almost equal, the time they spend watching TV as surfing on the Internet," said Jenna Beardsley-Smith, senior manager of advertising for T-Mobile. "The Sidekick allows for great social engagement. That's why the microsite is better than TV. It's an experiential medium." Sources said the client has dedicated $3 million to the online effort, which broke July 10 and runs through mid-September. That's half the amount spent on previous campaigns on the brand. In its first two weeks, the relaunched sidekick.com received more than 1 million unique visitors with each visitor spending an average of 4.5 minutes on the site, as opposed to the average of one minute they spent before, according to Kim.
—with David Gianatasio and Gregory Solman