Incentives Snare Subscribers for Showtime

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Gift offers and partnerships with national brands are the hallmarks of Showtime Networks' strategy in direct mail campaigns that aim to hook consumers with a short-term incentive and reel them in with solid cable programming.

Starting this month, Showtime mails postcards to 15 million cable subscribers with its affiliated cable television providers nationwide. Postcard mailings will gain speed in March and conclude in April.

The postcard offers a $50 gift certificate good at Home Depot to consumers who sign up for Showtime by April 30. The campaign is part of a strategy adopted by Showtime a year ago to offer consumers short-term incentives to give the network a try.

Showtime's market research shows that once consumers subscribe, they are likely to stay, said Rick King, vice president of direct marketing and promotions for Showtime Networks, New York. So offering a one-time benefit for subscribing makes sense.

Last year, Showtime had success with its "Chill, Thrill & Grill" summer mail campaign in partnership with Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Weber Grills, followed by a Toys 'R' Us gift offer in the fall. The Home Depot campaign follows up on those efforts.

"In print, we really found that keeping it simple and offer-centric helps us maximize response," he said. "A great offer really was the best way to leverage direct mail."

Showtime did not disclose response or revenue goals for the campaign. King said he expected an immediate increase in subscribers once the mailings begin.

Showtime had to develop the campaign without the benefit of individually identifying information about its prospects. Cable providers do not release such data because of privacy concerns, King said.

However, they do share some information on demographic trends that helps Showtime craft its incentives. Showtime develops the campaigns and depends on its cable affiliates to distribute mailers to potential subscribers on the local level.

"It's a two-way street," he said. "They're looking to us to lead as direct marketers. They want to help us by giving us the data they have at their disposal to help us find a direction to lead in."

Showtime chose national brands for its incentives to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, King said. In testing, Home Depot and Toys 'R' Us topped the list in generating response.

In today's economy, more people are looking to save money on home improvements, making a Home Depot gift card appealing.

"These days, people are looking inward, at their homes," he said. "They see a $50 gift certificate to Home Depot and it really resonates."

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