Specialties take branding to the Web

Who can resist the allure of an anthropomorphic bug? Last November, YTV teamed up with Mattel Canada and Intel on a Web promotion for one of the hottest new toys of the holiday season: the Intel Play QX3 Computer Microscope. The...

Who can resist the allure of an anthropomorphic bug?

Last November, YTV teamed up with Mattel Canada and Intel on a Web promotion for one of the hottest new toys of the holiday season: the Intel Play QX3 Computer Microscope.

The contest site had all the familiar hallmarks of the youth channel’s communications – the vivid colours, the kitschy characters and so on. And the host? A dapper, six-legged secret agent named James Bug (agent ‘double-oh thirteen’), who walked kids through a demo of the toy and explained to them how they could win.

YTV’s ‘The Fly Who Bugged Me’ promotion is just one recent example of the Web-based initiatives that specialty channels are undertaking as they attempt to extend their broadcast brands into the ever-expanding online universe.

Nearly all the Canadian specialties now have some form of Web presence. While most initially designed their sites simply to support their on-air programming, some channels have now begun to view them as entirely separate marketing and communications vehicles, with the power to enhance the viewer’s overall experience of the brand.

YTV and its sister station Treehouse TV (both of which are owned by Corus Entertainment) use the Web to support their programming and give viewers the opportunity to interact with them, says Steve Rolufs, director of new media at YTV. But they have also attempted to turn the sites (www.ytv.com and www.treehousetv.com) into destinations in and of themselves, by providing original content and entertainment opportunities online.

Indeed, Rolufs says, there are plans now to beef up the volume of original content online, with the addition of more games, information and streaming media.

For Treehouse TV, the point of having a site is to enhance the viewer’s experience of the channel, says Susan Ross, vice-president and general manager of Treehouse.

‘We promote the site on-air, so that when the television is turned off, we’re hopeful that parents and children will get on the computer, visit our site and be stimulated to do other activities, like printing out colouring pages or getting instructions for making crafts,’ she says.

In addition to extending the Treehouse brand, Ross says, the site can also serve to extend individual brand components, such as specific programs and characters.

Ultimately, content is what determines the value of a channel’s Web site, argues Geoff Thrasher, director of marketing and sales for CBC Newsworld.

The time restrictions inherent in television and radio limit the amount of information that can be communicated on the air, Thrasher explains. So the Newsworld site (www.newsworld.cbc.ca) affords viewers the opportunity to get more details about the stories that the network covers.

Typical of Newsworld’s online initiatives is the planned Everest 2000 Web site, which will feature background information and daily postings about Canadian climber Byron Smith’s trek to the summit of Mount Everest.

Alliance Atlantis Communications, which owns Life Network, HGTV Canada, Showcase Television and History Television, is also a strong believer in Web communications. Last June, the company established a new media operation with the goal of helping its various divisions – including the specialty channels – develop Internet strategies and create online content.

Each of the specialty channels has a clearly identifiable niche audience, defined by its particular leisure time interests, says Todd Goldsbie, vice-president, new media with Alliance Atlantis. So their companion Web sites should not only promote the programming, but provide additional – and often highly targeted – information.

‘We are a content company,’ Goldsbie says. ‘As more people migrate to the Web, there’s a tremendous opportunity for us to re-purpose our existing content and provide additional content through that alternative distribution channel. The company believes that the Internet will continue to become a more meaningful and significant distribution channel for content.’

While Alliance Atlantis has yet to roll out any Web-exclusive promotions, Goldsbie says they are developing more cross-media initiatives – such as watch-and-win contests and forced-viewing promotions – that incorporate both online and offline components. The company is also in the process of mapping out some e-commerce plans, primarily for HGTV.

For her part, Hilary Firestone, vice-president, network marketing and promotions with Teletoon, considers the Web an ‘amazing’ tool.

The animation channel uses its site (www.teletoon.com) extensively to support its many on-air promotions. Indeed, more than 90% of all contest entries that Teletoon receives now come via e-mail.

A re-evaluation of the channel’s online advertising policy is currently underway. While Teletoon does feature its promotional partners on the site, it has – so far, anyway – not welcomed banner ads. Advertisers, however, have expressed so much interest that Firestone says the channel has decided to at least explore the possibility. There are also plans to begin creating more Web-only promotions.

Like many of the specialty channels, Firestone says, Teletoon is bringing a long-term perspective to the development of its Web presence, treating it as a foundation for future initiatives in the area of interactive television.

‘It’s not simply a marketing vehicle as it was before,’ she says. ‘We are starting to make it an entity on its own, with its own content. It supports the television, and the television supports the Web. We’re certainly looking at this as part of our long-range plans.’

Specialty channels should have the coming advent of interactive television in the back of their minds as they undertake online initiatives, says Ross.

The streaming of audio and video content and the archiving of footage on the Web are all part of this process, she says, and will lead to a richer experience for viewers.

Also in this report:

- It’s a harsh realm: In today’s network television environment, the chances of a show’s success are slimmer than ever p.TV2

- Consolidation of specialties a mixed blessing: Upward pressure on price is offset by plethora of choice p.TV16

- Spotlight on…Television Creative p.TV18

- Drop the Beat busts an interactive move: Alliance Atlantis hip-hop drama invites viewers to participate via Web site and interactive TV p.TV23

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group