Bell keeping a close eye on first infomercial

Bell Canada's first 30-minute infomercial is a tightly budgeted, closely monitored test to see if long-form advertising will build interest and drive subscriptions to its SmartTouch package of services.Alice Smith, Bell section manager, advertising, says the phone company plans qualitative and...

Bell Canada’s first 30-minute infomercial is a tightly budgeted, closely monitored test to see if long-form advertising will build interest and drive subscriptions to its SmartTouch package of services.

Alice Smith, Bell section manager, advertising, says the phone company plans qualitative and quantitative research on the SmartTouch infomercial, as well as an analysis of sales results to determine its impact.

The full-motion infomercial broke March 27. It will be broadcast for two weeks in Ontario only.

Bell Canada provides local and long-distance phone service in Ontario and Quebec.

Smith dismisses one industry observer’s view that two weeks is too short a time to assess how the infomercial has done.

She says there are no black-and-white answers when trying something new.

She says Bell decided on the infomercial, which she calls an ‘incremental media test within an overall promotion,’ for reasons that were part exploratory, part product-specific.

Smith says Bell had wanted to make an infomercial for some time, adding the loosening of various regulatory strictures last November and again this January by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission made the decision easier.

Moreover, she says the infomercial format has made some ‘gains in respectability’ recently.

Smith says SmartTouch services – Call Display, Call Answer and the Vista 200 telephone – are ‘quite a complex product’ adding it has been a struggle for Bell to deliver a full message about them using the usual 30- or 60-second tv spots.

Janice Boduch, account supervisor at the Leo Burnett agency in Toronto, which has Bell’s residential business, says the infomercial, because of its length, allows the advertising to go into detail and to explain SmartTouch’s features and how they work to subscribers’ advantage.

SmartTouch’s full name is the Bell SmartTouch Value Package.

Ian French, president of Northern Lights Direct Response Television, producer of the infomercial, says the greatest challenge was how to present Call Display, Call Answer and the Vista 200 phone without confusing the viewer.

French, who notes the production had ‘always, always to protect [Bell's] brand image,’ says it was decided to package the three elements together to allow the public to make one buy rather than three.

He says Bell was ‘very frugal with the budget’ for the infomercial, something Smith confirms.

In fact, French says, the phone company hired an independent auditor to watch expenses.

The infomercial is being broadcast on cable tv’s Value Network in Toronto, London, Peterborough, North Bay, Barrie and Kingston.

It is also slated for broadcast on such stations as cfto and cfmt in Toronto, chch in Hamilton and ckco in Kitchener.

It will also air on border stations wutv and wgrz in Buffalo, n.y.

Smith says each station that runs the infomercial will display a different 800 number, providing another way to tally the calls generated.

She says although it is premature to say where the infomercial fits in Bell’s product and service line-up, it is being used as part of a current campaign for SmartTouch that uses two 30-second tv spots, newspapers and inserts in phone bills mailed to customers.

According to Smith, the reason why the infomercial broke when it did has much to do with the SmartTouch promotion, noting it closes April 18.