Campaign for ISP Channel Combines Direct Mail, Cable TV

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SoftNet Systems Inc., San Francisco, is getting a strong initial response to a multi-faceted advertising campaign that is seeking to convert Internet users to SoftNet's ISP Channel, which offers access to the Web through television cables.


The "Run with the Fast Crowd" campaign, which includes about 370,000 pieces of direct mail in a two-stage mailing effort, is rolling out to all 27 participating ISP Channel markets this week, after launching in six of those markets last month and a few more during the last two weeks. The ISP Channel operates much like other premium cable channels, with local cable providers delivering the service to individual homes for a fee that is added onto the basic cable bill.


The campaign was produced by agency Rutherford Bolen Group, Campbell, CA. It lasts six weeks in each market, and kicks off with cross-promotional advertising on other cable channels. The first stage of the mail pieces are scheduled to drop late in the first week and into the second week, after a heavy promotional effort on cable.


In addition, a "last chance" postcard mailer, supported with additional cable TV spots, is scheduled to go out at the end of the fourth week campaign, announcing that the original offer, promoted as being for one month only, has been extended for an additional two weeks.


Kevin Gavin, senior vice president of marketing, said it was too early to fully assess the response to the campaign, and he would not release specific results, but he did say the company was experiencing heavy volume at its 26-seat call center in Mountain View, CA.


"Our fear is that we might be burying the call center," he said. "We need to think about how we can slow down the volume or off-load it. We staffed up for a two- to three-fold increase, and it looks like we might be getting a three- to four-fold increase."


The campaign offer includes a limited-time promotion of half off the installation cost of the system plus one free month's subscription.


Gavin said the offer was designed to neutralize the sticker shock of the high installation costs.


"Ultimately, the cost is relatively modest, it's not a whole lot more than a dial-up [Internet service provider]," he said. "In our case it has more to do with the up-front cost. Some folks tend to be a little hesitant when they hear about the install charge. That's why our offer really tries to break down the barrier."


The ISP Channel is partnering with the local cable affiliates to finance the campaign, which Gavin said involves about $800,000 in spending. The ISP Channel is spending about $500,000, with another $300,000 kicked in by the local cable companies. In the case of the direct mail component, which consists of 6-inch by 9-inch postcard mailers, the ISP Channel paid for the production of the pieces, and the local companies paid for the postage.


The local companies also are inserting ad pieces in with customers' cable bills, which mail once during the campaign in each of the different markets.


Five different TV spots use testimonials to create the "speed" theme, with users pointing out that the ISP Channel is 17 times faster that traditional dial-up access. That theme carries also over into the direct mail creative, as well as in radio and print ads.


The first stage of the mailing, which is going to about 250,000 homes, includes most of the homes within the markets being targeted that can receive cable. A few of the local cable operators, in order to reduce their costs, mailed the pieces only to their subscribers, according to Maureen Waters, manager of marketing communications at SoftNet.


The second stage -- the so-called last-chance offer -- will include 120,000 pieces, which are still in development. In order to save costs, the second mailing is going to a more exclusive list which was created by examining data on household income, PC ownership and Internet use within each of the ZIP codes, Waters said.


Although ISP Channel has done a lot of local marketing in the past, this campaign marks the first large-scale effort in which several markets have united behind an initiative. One of the challenges, Gavin said, was persuading each of the different cable operators to support the effort. In addition, he said, the company lobbied its cable partners to promote the same offer at the same price, so that the call center would be able to handle the campaign without routing calls based on market of origin.


"We think this is the most powerful, multi-pronged cable marketing campaign that we are aware of," Gavin said.
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