Old school, new tricks

The venerable Columbia House, which had its origins in an age of snap-brim fedoras and gleaming tailfins, has today fully embraced the marketing methods of the new millennium. As evidence, consider figures released recently by Internet audience measurement firm Media Metrix....

The venerable Columbia House, which had its origins in an age of snap-brim fedoras and gleaming tailfins, has today fully embraced the marketing methods of the new millennium.

As evidence, consider figures released recently by Internet audience measurement firm Media Metrix. ColumbiaHouseCanada.com ranked among the top five Canadian-originating e-commerce sites along with retail powerhouses Chapters Online, Indigo and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Overall, Columbia House Canada attracted more than 515,000 visitors in the month of December, 1999.

‘When we launched our site in 1996, we saw the Internet as an emerging medium,’ recalls Harjinder Atwal, executive vice-president and general manager of Toronto-based Columbia House Canada. ‘We thought it would be a good fit with our customers.

‘And over time, it’s actually worked better than we envisioned. It has surprised everyone.’

All Columbia House customers – whether through traditional direct channels, or through the Internet – want their orders filled quickly, says Atwal, and the Web is especially suited for that.

It’s a natural, he says, for both younger members who are more at ease with using the Internet, as well as older members who are traditionally reluctant to supply payment information, even over secured Web sites. For with Columbia House, the merchandise is sent with the bill. Members can also accept merchandise and make payments through Canada Post’s ePost service.

Approximately 15% of Columbia House Canada music orders now come through the Web, and Atwal is confident that figure will increase as more Canadians embrace Internet technology.

‘We project that soon half of all Canadians will be online,’ he says (current figures from Ernst & Young indicate that 39% of Canadians are now surfing the Web). ‘That’s good for our future.’

Despite the inroads being made by the Internet, Atwal says Columbia House views the Web as a supplement to, and not a competitor with, its direct mail channel.

‘It hasn’t replaced direct mail, not at all,’ he continues. ‘We have not done away with mailing the catalogue. In fact, not all of the catalogue is online.’ He adds that new members who join online will continue to receive print mailings. The company is working on the creation of a completely electronic membership in the future but, for now, all members still receive the regular club mailings, which translate to at least 18 buying opportunities per year.

Meanwhile, Columbia House Canada is working on customizing its electronic catalogue for each member, based on his or her buying habits. The company issues each visitor a membership number, which is requested each time a shopper wishes to respond to an offer.

Overall, music retailing has also moved online with a bullet. Sam the Record Man and HMV both sell music, videos and DVDs over the Web. And, until very recently, BMG Music Club Canada competed head-to-head with Columbia House.

‘We do realize that there is significant competition for music products with a number of Internet players marketing their products over the Web,’ says Atwal. ‘But we’ve been there for more than three years and the way we market is different.’

And Atwal says the Columbia House business model, essentially created by direct marketing guru Lester Wunderman of the one-cent-offer fame, is also carved in stone.

‘Customers have more control over their accounts and we can communicate with them instantaneously,’ he says. ‘Lester’s vision of one-to-one marketing is slowly becoming a reality.’

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.