New Site's Interactive Approach Is Health-E, a wellness and alternative medicine site, is taking a unique approach to marketing its Web site: interactive paid programming.

“I don't take offense to people calling it an infomercial at all,” said Larry Bracco, director of media development at Health-E-Styles Inc., Santa Monica, CA, who was previously chief operating officer at direct response marketing company MarketVision Direct, Boston.

“It is a paid program — there is no question about it. The concept of paid programming, which is sponsored by a third party and is selling merchandise, is not foreign to us, and neither do we look at it as impure on any level. I think the formats are melding, and it's really utilizing the medium that is most effective for our marketing plans,” said Bracco.

On Sept. 15 the company will launch its site, providing information on selling and advertising alternative health products such as vitamins, diet supplements and herbal remedies. Most of the items for sale will be from well-known national brands, but Health-E-Styles will get in on the act with its own smaller brand of supplements, Bracco said.

Coinciding with the launch will be the premiere of the Health-E-Styles television program, which will be hosted by two 30-something women — a protagonist who supports alternative medicine and an antagonist who prefers traditional doctors visits.

Bracco said these women represent not only the main target demographic of women age 30 to 49, but also the two types most likely to buy from the site — those who have made alternative medicine a lifestyle choice and those who are just interested enough to ask some questions or play devil's advocate. Though the target audience is women age 30 to 49, Bracco said the site also expects to attract a “younger, convergent audience” due to its interactivity.

The media buys for the show will be handled by Guthy-Renker Corp., Palm Desert, CA, a national infomercial distribution network that buys large blocks of time from cable operators, and includes a provision for promotional spots highlighting the show and its airtime.

“The game plan here is to buy 13 weeks at the same time on the same cable channel, generate an audience for it and either continue it as a paid program or develop a barter/syndication deal,” Bracco said. “Strategically, we take the model that using television as a marketing device is the best way to build a brand firmly and quickly. The enhancement is really a deepening of the television experience, while the Web site is the experience.”

The shows will be archived for on-demand Webcast at the site, and Bracco expects many cross-promotional tie-ins between the two, including Internet-only segments that pick up where the show leaves off.

“The point of the show is to stimulate interest, raise some questions and provide some information that leads people to the Web site for more in-depth information,” Bracco said. “With the state of healthcare in this country — HMOs are prevalent and we don't have a one-to-one relationship with our physicians anymore — we don't have places to go to get this information besides the Internet.”

The show will be interactive to anyone using a digital set-top box or a system like WebTV. The enhancements on the program will allow viewers to ask questions, talk with other viewers and either receive more information on a subject or product or, if possible, link to the Web site for more information or to purchase something seen on the show.

Bracco said the company is in talks with cable operator Charter Communications, St. Louis, to work out a deal to regularly broadcast the show. The company expects more cable operators will want to jump on board because “we will be providing programming to them that today utilizes a capability that they have to spend literally billions of dollars developing, and there is very little programming available for it,” said Bracco. He added that the show gives customers “a chance to road-test this type of interactivity.”

Included during the show will be three direct response spots offering a self-branded Heath-E-Styles nutritional supplement. Audiences without interactivity can order the product by phone or through the Web site.

The company's yearlong business and marketing roll-out will eventually have the site supported by the show, branding and direct response spots, Internet kiosks, a catalog, print and banner buys, an 800 information and purchasing line and, finally, retail sales.

“This is a very ambitious project, so we don't want to throw everything out there at first,” Bracco said. “We want to make sure that the Web site, which is the cornerstone of the information component of this — and the television program are working well together.”

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