Marketers test novel ways to reach the ad-skipping generation

Since the launch of the first ad-skipping devices such as TiVo and ReplayTV, marketers have been tearing out their hair to find new ways to ensure their advertising efforts aren't zapped. And with good reason. A new study from Bandon, Ore.-based CNW Marketing Research has found that people watching recorded TV shows on personal video recorders (PVRs) in the U.S. skip through ads 71% of the time.
However, according to Ian MacLean, VP of Montreal-based Media Experts' iTV lab, marketers should regard the growth of the PVR market as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Since the launch of the first ad-skipping devices such as TiVo and ReplayTV, marketers have been tearing out their hair to find new ways to ensure their advertising efforts aren’t zapped. And with good reason. A new study from Bandon, Ore.-based CNW Marketing Research has found that people watching recorded TV shows on personal video recorders (PVRs) in the U.S. skip through ads 71% of the time.

However, according to Ian MacLean, VP of Montreal-based Media Experts’ iTV lab, marketers should regard the growth of the PVR market as an opportunity rather than a threat.

‘There are two principal reasons why people skip ads,’ he says. ‘Either they are poorly executed or irrelevant to the viewer. What PVRs do is raise the bar on creativity and challenge marketers to build more entertaining, effective creative.’

Indeed a number of marketers are coming up with innovative new ways, beyond the traditional 30-second spot, to ensure that their advertising drives its message home to the right viewers.

TiVo, the TV service that started the ad-zapping trend in 1999, is trying to win back the hearts of marketers by finding new ways to reach the same consumers to whom it gave the ad-zapping power. The San Jose, Calif.-based service (currently only available in the U.S. and U.K.) is teaming up with various marketers in an effort to create more compelling and content-rich ad packages, with the hope that a fair chunk of its 420,000 subscribers will opt to watch them.

Most recently, TiVo offered its subscribers a sneak preview of the first video from the Counting Crows album Hard Candy this month. The content produced by Universal Music Group also included interviews with band members and rehearsal footage from the making of the video. Sony Pictures Entertainment also jumped on the bandwagon last month with a series of showcases, offering at least 10 minutes of digital video content on the TiVo service. In one showcase, for example, a 90-second trailer and three packages of movie excerpts promoted the recently launched movie Mr. Deeds.

And in May TiVo formed an agreement with Eden Prairie, Minn.-based electronics retailer Best Buy to transform the traditional 30-second spot into what TiVo calls ‘advertainment.’ The retailer’s Go Mobile campaign offered TiVo subscribers an optional 13-minute ad package created by Minneapolis-based BBA, encompassing product vignettes, interviews with singer Sheryl Crow and snippets of her new album, together with a free CD giveaway. While the final results are yet to come back, Mollie Weston, manager of broadcast production/executive producer for Best Buy’s ‘Go Mobile’ effort, says viewer numbers spiked each time new content was added to the showcase. And the retailer is planning to expand its TiVo testing.

‘We’re actually looking at doing a number of different tests for holiday and for fall. Some are larger and some are smaller-scale,’ says Weston. ‘We’re planning on coming out with another showcase for TiVo, and I think it will be on a slightly larger scale.’

Media Experts’ MacLean regards the agreements as a very smart move on behalf of TiVo and its marketing partners.

‘Just as PVRs can help people find their favourite shows, ad packages like this can also help marketers get their products in front of the right people,’ he says. ‘As people time-shift programming, they watch shows that they would not have watched had they not had a PVR, so marketers are also gaining incremental ad exposure,’ he says. ‘People want to watch ads that are well done, entertaining and humorous.’

Canada’s only PVR provider, however, has no similar marketing partnerships in mind, according to Bell ExpressVu’s spokeswoman, Alessandra Saccal. The Bell ExpressVu 5100, which is currently used in approximately 100,000 households, combines satellite TV broadcasting with the ability to replay live TV and to digitally record 30 hours of programming.

‘I don’t see (the 5100) as a threat to advertisers,’ says Saccal. ‘The commercial-skipping feature is no different to a VCR and is only functional when a program is recorded.’

From his viewpoint, MacLean believes that Canadian marketers and PVR providers like Bell ExpressVu should be following the lead of TiVo and its U.S. partners by taking a more active role in enriching the content of advertising. ‘The PVR business is not large enough in Canada yet but it will be, and the sooner they start thinking about new business models, the better.

‘Broadcasters, MSO’s [multiple service operators] and marketers will have to partner together to find new ways to reach consumers with effective messages in this new digital environment,’ he says.

Product placement is another technique that is enabling many marketers to get through to the ad-skipping masses, and Canadian marketers are getting active with it. In June, Toronto-based Starcom Worldwide formed a partnership with international product placement provider Premier Entertainment Services (PES) that will allow its clients to explore more non-traditional advertising means.

‘It will give our clients the advantage of having access to films and TV prior to production which will lead to things like product placement, product use and perhaps storylines involving products,’ says Steve Meraska, VP group media director at Starcom.

Although Starcom is in the process of educating clients about the new opportunities on offer, Meraska says no specific deals are yet being discussed with PES. ‘The interesting thing about this whole world of product placement is that it’s not category-specific. Any client might be suitable,’ he says.

Dave Newton, president at the Toronto office of PES, adds: ‘Opportunities to avoid traditional media are certainly going to increase with technology such as TiVo and satellite TV on the market, so marketers have to look at other options. Product placement is not there to replace traditional media but it’s an opportunity to enhance it.’

The deal with Starcom will also benefit PES’s clients, according to Newton. ‘It allows both companies to work in tandem to give our clients the opportunity to reinforce their brand message through product placement and traditional media buys simultaneously.’

PES, which also has offices in Los Angeles and London, Eng., puts together product placement packages for a huge number of clients including Coca-Cola, Dunlop Tires, General Mills and Dasani Water. One of the company’s recent Canadian-specific deals saw the hotel chain Days Inn Canada incorporated into episodes of the CTV series, The Associates. Scenes were shot in the hotel lobbies and guest rooms, and characters were seen drinking out of Days Inns coffee mugs, for example, during the show.

The partnership was later extended to include tent cards in hotel rooms inviting guests to tune in to the show, and an internal contest offered employees the chance to win a walk-on role in the show.

‘Part of our marketing strategy is to offer the unexpected,’ says Melissa Evans, director of national marketing at Toronto-based Days Inn Canada. ‘The less traditional the advertising, the more you can get people sitting on the edge of their seats and taking notice.’

Another of the hotel chain’s recent product placement deals saw the Days Inn name appearing in the YTV mystery show, Screech Owls, which Evans says helped to raise awareness among young families. She adds that product placement is just one of the many marketing strategies which the hotel chain employs to complement its traditional TV and print campaigns, so it has not been possible to gauge the effectiveness of any particular program.

Meanwhile PES is currently working on a major marketing program for the Salinas, Calif.-based motorcycle company Buell, which will see the manufacturer’s bikes incorporated into the Warner Bros. movie Ecks vs Sever, starring Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu, which is slated for release in September.

The deal also incorporates a pre-release promo through which visitors to Buell retail outlets in the U.S. can enter for a chance to win a motorcycle.

‘This deal will bring tremendous exposure to Buell as Lucy Liu will be riding a Buell motorcycle during the movie, and it also generates great brand awareness for the film,’ says Newton. He adds that all promotional posters and artwork around the contests will draw attention back to the movie.

And in another deal put together by PES, clothing designer Kenneth Cole displayed his wares before thousands of Canadians at the 2002 Juno Award show held in St John’s Nfld. in April. Show hosts, recording artists The Barenaked Ladies, were kitted out in the designer’s clothes during the show as was stand-up comedian Mike Bullard who made an appearance on stage.

Also moving into the realm of non-traditional marketing, Alliance Atlantis Broadcast Group opened a new in-house marketing arm in July, which is designed to seek out new marketing partners to help promote its 12 specialty TV channels in innovative new ways. The broadcaster hopes that deals being formed by the new group will help to deliver more compelling advertising to targeted audiences through non-traditional advertising means.

One deal that was signed with Air Canada this month will see branded programming from several of the broadcaster’s networks appearing on Air Canada flights lasting 90 minutes or more. It will take the form of a half-hour magazine-style program. This new deal builds on an existing agreement with Air Canada that has included History Television vignettes as part of the airline’s in-flight entertainment since 1997.

Another deal with Toronto’s Healthy Canadian Media Group will enable Alliance Atlantis to tout its programming content from its Discovery Health Channel in the waiting rooms of family medical clinics across the country. ‘Discovery Health Channel’s content is a perfect fit for consumers who are already in the mind-set to receive medical advice,’ says Jim Johnson, director of advertising and partnership marketing at Alliance Atlantis.

With files from Brendan Christie.