Hachette Tests Billboard Ad With Cell Phone Response

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One of the biggest billboards in Manhattan has been turned into a direct response tool by Hachette Filipacchi to boost subscriptions to its Car and Driver and Road & Track publications and show the effectiveness of the billboard, which Hachette owns, to other advertisers.

At one end of the block-long billboard is an ad for Car and Driver and at the other is an ad for Road & Track. On top of the two ads is a three-digit number passersby can call immediately on their cell phones to enter a sweepstakes.

At the bottom of the billboard is the message: "Enter for a chance to win the Driver's Seat Sweepstakes! Call #669 on your cell phone by April 30, and say 'Drive.' "

This is the first time the publisher has used a billboard with a direct response mechanism.

The immediate goal is to acquire the e-mail address of people who call the number and turn them into subscribers. But assuming the effort delivers impressive numbers, another goal is to use those numbers in selling the billboard space to other advertisers.

"We hope to prove to them how effective the billboard can be as a marketing tool based on the results we get from our campaign," said Ed Abramson, vice president, group publisher of Car and Driver and Road & Track. "Once we have some metrics that can display to our advertisers how effective the billboard is, we hope they will inquire about renting the space for themselves."

Pedestrians who dial the number are connected to a live operator. They are asked to provide their e-mail address to receive an e-mail message that will let them register for the sweepstakes. Consumers who provide their e-mail address then receive a message with a confirmation link for the sweepstakes along with rules, a sponsor photo and a link for subscribing to Car and Driver and Road & Track.

The grand prize is a gift certificate for a two-day driving course at Skip Barber Racing School.

NowMarketing, a provider of digital marketing services, is providing the technology for the campaign. It is using its newest service, NowCode, which combines offline advertising, wireless messaging and e-mail marketing. It is designed to give consumers the ability to receive promotional e-mail offers from companies only when they specifically request them through their cell phone.

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