Break Through Digital Fog With Long-Form Advertising

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In today's cluttered media landscape, marketers of hi-tech products and services have a greater challenge reaching their consumers. The buying public has more choices than ever before.


But choice can lead to confusion as consumers are bombarded with competitive and complex products and technologies. In addition, changing purchase behaviors brought on by the e-commerce revolution coupled with the fragmentation of advertising vehicles produces a morass that leaves consumers perplexed and unable to make a comfortable purchase decision.


One of the great ironies of the dot-com revolution is that mass media has become the greatest beneficiary of the online phenomenon. However, 30-second television and radio ads have one major constraint: a limited depth of communication. With so many ads clogging the airwaves, the entire advertising community wonders what, if any, their real impact is.


This challenge is leading more hi-tech marketers to use program-length television advertising to break through the digital fog. Simply put, program-length advertising gives hi-tech marketers the luxury of time - in some cases a full half-hour - to entertain, educate and engage their audience about the benefits and features of their products.


A direct response component such as a toll-free number or Web address is typically featured, enabling consumers to purchase products directly, obtain more information or be directed to their local retailer.


The benefits of a solid program-length advertising campaign include:


Seeding consumer expectance for a new technological platform. As a pull strategy, a program-length advertising campaign can gain consumer expectance, thus expanding the consumer reach from the innovator level to the crucial early adopter stage and beyond. In the fourth quarter of 1998, Toshiba ran a program-length campaign for a DVD player. Since then, the DVD platform has crushed its competition, DivX, and DVD is now the fastest selling consumer electronics product of all time, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.


Driving grass-roots demand. Program-length advertising educates consumers and creates grass-roots demand for products at retail. Retailers often give preferential space to products they know will be supported by a major program-length campaign. Panasonic used this strategy to introduce the Pore Cleanser, a new hi-tech small appliance, and leveraged shelf-space at several key retailers.


Improving margins. With fewer retail channels of distribution, there are only a handful of dominant players who dictate margins. Selling direct to consumers via television and online gives the marketer improved margins while bolstering overall average selling price. Philips Consumer Electronics has executed nine such campaigns - a testament to the model's effectiveness.


Differentiating products and preventing brand switching. A commodity mentality for mature hi-tech products reduces consumers' purchase decisions to cheapest price, thus shrinking margins. Program-length advertising can differentiate product benefits and features so consumers are predisposed to a particular brand. For example, a campaign for Magnavox television sets focused on two differentiating features: a remote locator that enables the viewer to find a missing remote, and smart sound, which adjusts the volume level to a consistent level automatically. By amplifying these distinctions, Magnavox was able to combat retailers' attempts to switch consumers to alternative brands.


Creating profits and/or defraying marketing costs. Faced with eroding margins, hi-tech marketers are especially enamored by program-length advertising's ability to generate direct sales that boost profits or defray marketing costs. Additionally, they achieve instant insight into consumer acceptance for their products and services. The alternative is to commit millions for traditional media.


Gather consumer intelligence. Clients can exert more control over their ad budgets because they can monitor inquiries and sales as indicators of consumer interest in their product. Demographic intelligence also can be gleaned in the telemarketing and online environments.


To execute an effective program-length campaign, it's critical that hi-tech marketers avoid the pitfalls and choose their partners wisely. Here are some major considerations:


Honor your brand. The communicative quality of any program-length campaign should be consistent with the rest of that brand's advertising. While program-length production costs are substantially lower than the typical television ad (whose median budget totals approximately $300,000, plus creative and agency fees, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies) maintaining an adequate production budget is essential.


Select a turnkey solution. Since the strategy, creative, production, media and backend logistics of a campaign are all critical, it's essential to work with a marketing partner who understands all of these key components. Product managers and advertising executives are extremely busy and they need exemplary support to make such a campaign sing.


Amortize the costs across several channels. Advertising has utility in a number of other venues, including trade shows, internal and retail sales force education, point-of-purchase video displays and online streaming video applications. These additional applications should be considered during program development to ensure that work created will be organic in each of these venues.


Don't believe the 4 a.m. myth. Many marketing executives won't commit to such a program because they mistakenly believe that only overnight time periods are available for program-length advertising. The fact is that a variety of effective dayparts are available in both broadcast and cable television networks.


Be open to new matrices. Program-length campaigns are not simply about reach and frequency. They entail an examination of cost-per-lead and sales data; in the latter, against all channels. And, they give marketers what they truly desire - the ability to evaluate return on advertising investment.


The hi-tech categories that could benefit from such programs include dot-coms, emerging technologies, cellular telephones, computer hardware and software, game platforms, personal organizers, satellite dish and programming suppliers as well as a host of others.


As a hi-tech client has commented referring to the effect on sales, "When we run these programs, it's like turning on a faucet." Hi-tech marketers who are open to new ideas may find themselves showered by similar success, rather than taking a bath on their next product launch.
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