Beyond the 30-second spot

Like the conditioned reflexes of Pavlov's dog, long pods of 30-second spots have trained

Like the conditioned reflexes of Pavlov’s dog, long pods of 30-second spots have trained television viewers to avoid commercials.

But clutter, fragmentation, and commercial avoidance aside, television is still the king of mass media and marketers will never totally abandon it. Instead, they are challenging their agencies to deke around these obstructions by finding new ways to use the medium.

The technology and the ideas are here and now, but the old accountability bugaboo seems to be holding some clients back. Many are averse to using techniques and technologies that don’t yet have track records or the ability to measure ROI. Still that hasn’t stopped a few ground-breaking Canadian marketers like Bell and Rogers.

This week, a new program – and perhaps a new genre – launches on CBC and on French-language sports network RDS that brings together a major Canadian obsession and brands targeting its devotees.

Making the Cut, presented by Bell, which has been termed a ‘hockeymentary’ by its creators, is a 13-week series that follows 7,000 Canadian hockey hopefuls who have the opportunity to make the cut, go to an NHL team training camp and get a legitimate chance to live their dream of playing in the big league.

A costly and ambitious project, the show is the brainchild of Gemini award winner Derik Murray of Network Entertainment in Vancouver, who began developing the idea about three years ago. To manage the event and win sponsors, he brought in Molson Sports and Entertainment, a division of Molson Canada that organizes, produces and promotes racing, sports, concerts, and entertainment events and programs, including roughly 750 hours of live prime-time sports programming.

Early this year, Bell Canada got on board to underwrite the project and the tryouts took place in April.

Alek Krstajic, chief marketing officer of Bell Canada, says when Steve Marshman, Bell’s director of sponsorship, brought the idea to him it had already been turned down by most other major advertisers as well as broadcasters. Right away, Krstajic knew that Making the Cut was a perfect and timely fit for Bell because hockey had already been pinpointed as a major focus for its marketing efforts.

Although Bell may not be the first brand consumers think of when talking about hockey, or not yet anyway, Krstajic says the sport really does serve the company’s objective of winning the fiercely competitive Canadian broadband market with a variety of telecom services – voice, video and Internet.

Says Krstajic: ‘The only long-term sustainable differentiator is going to be our brand and at the end of the day it’s going to fall to that old adage of sales – ‘people buy from people they like and trust.’ Programs like Making the Cut are going to put the Bell brand in the hearts and minds of Canadians all over, because hockey is Canada’s sport.’ Krstajic believes the show will appeal to many demographic groups – both male and female.

His foremost rule on sponsorship is that if Bell is getting involved, it needs to underwrite a program so that Bell owns it and can ensure quality control.

The Bell brand will be seen everywhere, from the rink boards and the players’ sweaters, to the coaches corresponding via e-mail on Bell Blackberries, Sympatico Internet connections at training camp, and the players calling home on Bell Mobility cellphones.

Also, Bell ExpressVu is offering subscribers interactive features and programming during each of the episodes. The Sympatico Internet portal, which was integral to spreading the word about Making the Cut, will have a Making the Cut section with up-to-date information about the program, as well as content exclusive to Sympatico/MSN subscribers.

Secondary Making the Cut sponsors include Samsung, Kelsey’s Restaurants, Scotiabank, Schick and Nike/Bauer.

Their involvement is more traditional, but they will also have product placement and build on the connection with promotions. Schick will deliver promotional messages within retail drug channels but also provide the grooming products used during the show.

Nike/Bauer is outfitting the players, and Kelsey’s, for example, will have restaurant staff wearing Making the Cut-themed clothing and generate traffic with special in-restaurant events built around the days the program airs.

Bell competitor Rogers has also been active in this form of TV marketing. Last season during TVA’s overwhelming hit Star Académie, a Canadian Idol-like star search, viewers could vote for their favourite performers via the Illico interactive TV service from Videotron. Rogers Wireless tied its brand and products into the show quite nicely as sponsor of all the voting segments, offering four options to vote: phone, wireless messaging, the Internet, and via the remote control of Videotron’s digital Illico service.

Evelyne Ouellet, of TVA, says the regular phone was the main voting method, but use of the Web and text messaging grew from the first season to the second. Meanwhile, interactive TV, which was used for the first time in the second season, had a very strong performance it’s first time out ‘because it’s very natural. When you’re watching TV you already have the remote in your hand.’

When first approached to sponsor the voting, Anne-Marie Beauchemin, Rogers Wireless promotion and sponsorship specialist for the province of Quebec, thought the program would be ideal for demonstrating the uses of text messaging and reaching its core 16- to 24-year-old target group. That decision garnered gains in Rogers Wireless awareness.

The firm’s brand awareness grew by about 5% in the first season and another 8% in the second. ‘We wanted to incorporate ourselves into the French local market because Rogers sounds really anglophone.

‘In the second season, we had 75% awareness of the service itself. Three out of four people interviewed [in research] knew exactly who we were and how we were integrating the product [into the show].’

Star Académie ran in four half-hour segments Monday through Thursday, as well as a 90-minute episode on Sundays for nine weeks, and was garnering a 70% audience share. Over 300,000 Quebec homes have digital remotes with interactive capabilities.

Rogers Wireless will also be involved in a new reality show called Pour le Meilleur et Pour le Pire! (For Better or For Worse!).

GIST BOX – SCINTILLATING STATS

There are approximately 12 million homes in Canada with a television, according to Statistics Canada. The latest Decima Research quarterly report, ‘The Digital Domain,’ says there are an estimated 3.9 million digital TV subscribers, both cable and satellite, allowing them access to interactive, PVR, and VOD services.

THE VOD FACTOR

The advent of digital has opened doors to almost limitless possibilities through interactivity, PVRs, and video-on-demand (VOD).

Marketers, for example, will have options such as Marketplace, a VOD shopping service developed by U.S. digital cable provider Comcast. Advertisers can place long-form commercials or programs about their products and brands on the service, and then get data on the number of viewers who selected their program. General Motors is one of the advertisers that has signed on and the automaker is also expected to participate in Discovery Channel, History Channel, and A&E VOD services.

Nearly two million Canadian households now have access to VOD since Canada’s four major digital cable companies – Rogers, Shaw, Videotron, and Cogeco – have all launched their services.

VOD is where Ian MacLean, president of the iTV Lab division of Montreal-based Media Experts, sees the most opportunity for marketers in this country. Content on the VOD services is primarily movies although the cable companies are making deals to list other programming for viewers to watch in their own time. Videotron, for example, rebroadcasts TVA programming complete with commercials, and also has G4TechTV content, sports programming, and documentaries available.

Rogers Cable currently offers movies-on-demand along with CBC documentaries, and Citytv programming.

MacLean says with one-third of homes now digital, the country is nearing critical mass when it becomes viable and important for marketers and broadcasters to start leveraging the capabilities of digital. He believes VOD will eventually account for the majority of TV viewing in Canada – and, as that happens, advertisers and content providers will follow.

He explains: ‘[Marketers] can describe brand attributes at leisure and in greater detail than could be accomplished in 30 seconds. We like the model because it leverages the salient characteristics of TV – sight, sound, motion, and the ability to make the emotional connection that only TV can deliver.’

MacLean expects the province of Quebec to be ahead of the rest of Canada in use of VOD just as it has been with product placement, branded content, and interactive television through Montreal-based Videotron. PS