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Cable Marketers Seek Their Next National Pitch
By Steve Donohue multichannel.com2/14/2005
Marketing chiefs from the major cable MSOs plan to gather in New York next week to form a strategy for the next stage of the industry’s national marketing campaign, as the current one goes on temporary hiatus.

Among the ideas to be considered by members of CTAM’s MSO Marketing Co-op: Teaming with NBC and Panasonic Consumer Electronics on an HDTV promotion for the 2006 Winter Olympics, as well as partnerships with other consumer electronics manufacturers for campaigns that would break in the third and fourth quarters of 2005.

“At the meeting, there will be several different proposals and several different models,†said Comcast Corp. vice president of national video marketing Kevin Hill. “We’ll go through a review of how we did this past year, and we’ll start to evaluate what the best partners are for us in 2005.â€

Looking for ways to compete more effectively with the national ad campaigns from its satellite rivals, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing hatched the national ad campaigns in November 2003. The industry has pursued a two-pronged strategy, starting with a series of branding and image spots under the “Only Cable Can†umbrella slogan that touted cable as the best platform for products such as HDTV and video-on-demand.

Major MSOs have also cut deals with Panasonic, Samsung Electronics America and Sony Corp. to run promotions that offer discounts on cable programming to consumers that buy HDTVs. The campaigns helped cable gain exposure on national cable and broadcast networks and in high-profile sporting events such as National Football League games.

But the branding spots from New York agency Shepardson, Stern & Kaminsky, which compared the benefits of cable to puppies, chocolate and gravity, earned mixed reviews from operators. And MSO participation in the CE partnerships has fallen off, with Cablevision Systems Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Bright House Networks opting not to participate in the most recent campaign, the “Go for 2†HDTV marketing promotion with Sony that ended last month.

CTAM CEO Char Beales said the marketing partnerships with Sony, Samsung and Panasonic were designed to be flexible and to complement marketing campaigns from individual operators, which weren’t expected to participate in every campaign.

WANTED CHATTER

Beales also said the Only Cable Can puppy, chocolate and gravity spots were designed to spark some controversy.

“If you want to break through the clutter and get consumers to notice it you have to take some risks,†she said. “That always means there are going to be some people that like it and some people that don’t like it. We feel good about the results. Will we go in a different direction next time? We might. But it achieves the objective we had with that campaign.â€

The Only Cable Can commercials have poked fun at cable’s satellite rivals, and the campaign’s Web site lays out several reasons why “cable is better than the dish.â€

DirecTV Inc. executive vice president of marketing Neal Tiles maintained that the Only Cable Can push hasn’t hurt satellite-TV sales. “Look at the numbers,†he said. “Apparently it’s not working.â€

While most cable operators continue to add a small number of new customers each quarter, DirecTV added 4.2 million gross subscribers in 2004, and now counts about 14 million customers. After accounting for a monthly subscriber churn rate of 1.59%, DirecTV closed the year with 1.7 million net subscriber additions.
EchoStar Communications Corp. passed 11 million customers in January, adding more than 7.6 million net new customers in the last five years.

One of the biggest challenges for CTAM and the marketing co-op is designing commercials that are effective in cable markets nationwide, especially since each operator has unique product offerings and local marketing and pricing strategies. With Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other major MSOs focused on adding voice-over-Internet protocol telephone service to their video and high-speed data product bundles in 2005, the marketing co-op may add telephone pitches in upcoming campaigns.

“It’s our top priority for the next ad, but it depends on how fast the MSOs roll it [telephone] out,†Beales said.

'BEST PLATFORM’

Hill said the marketing co-op will look to cut deals with CE manufacturers that focus on marketing HDTV to watch sporting events like football, along with movies and music programming.

Beales has said future campaigns might not incorporate the “Only Cable Can†mantra, but would continue to emphasize the message that cable is the best platform for services such as HDTV and VOD.

SS&K, which created the Only Cable Can spots that ran in two six-week flights from August to December, hasn’t produced any additional commercials for the CTAM marketing co-op, said founder Lenny Stern.

“We’ve had a long ongoing relationship with many cable clients and the cable industry,†said Stern, who has done much work for Time Warner, and created spots for the industry’s “On Time Guarantee†campaign in the 1990s. “We certainly hope they [CTAM] will come to us with more.â€
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