Special TV relationships

Marketers are finding that becoming part of the programming itself offers the biggest payoff from their cable sponsorships.

Marketing Magazine, May 12, 1997   

Buying television seems simple enough: figure out the rating, who’s watching and where your target lies in relation to what’s available; then make a commercial that grabs them and pony up the cash for the time. That’s a simplified version of how broadcast television works.


It’s very different in the realm of specialty television. A big part of the difference comes from the way viewers watch broadcast and cable channels respectively. While most couch-cowboys are content to lope aimlessly across the broadcast video prairie, grazing via remote, specialty tuners are there on a mission.


People punch up specific specialty channels for specific programs. That dedication and focus means a keener audience for advertising — with the proviso that it has to be presented in a way that takes the relationship between a specialty channel and its audience into account.


Program sponsorships work better than just buying commercials; making yourself part of the program — rather than a break from it — can endear you as an advertiser to a discerning group. And with specialty channels pulling more tightly defined demographics, your message will be going to an audience likely to respond in greater numbers than any random chunk out of the “free TV” audience wad.


Here are three cases where an advertiser and specialty channel tailored working partnerships that led to more effective advertising at lower cost; three relationships with advertisers that echoed the relationship that specialty channels seek with their viewers.


Jeff Carrique, CIBC’s general manager of savings and investment, says the YTV Achievement Awards are a good fit with the bank’s Smart Start program aimed at helping children manage their money. And Terri Perras, YTV’s director of sales and event promotion, says “tweens” aged nine to 14 have about $1.1 billion per year to spend.



Given its audience — which is made up principally of “tweens” nine to 14 — what is YTV doing hooking up with a big chartered bank?


The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce had solid reasons for hitching itself to the channel’s YTV Achievement Awards, which this year were broadcast April 27. “They’re launching a new program called Smart Start,” explains Terri Perras, YTV’s director of sales and event promotion. “It’s aimed at helping kids manage their money.” And YTV knows that kids do have money that needs managing.


Perras says that Canadian tweens have about $1.1 billion in disposable income to spend annually. “Banks are now just picking up on that,” she says. “The kids are also future customers. But banks have always wanted to target kids.”


Jeff Carrique, CIBC’s general manager of savings and investment, says the YTV Achievement Awards fit very well strategically with Smart Start. The sponsorship had its origins when CIBC people met YTV people at a conference about marketing to youngsters. Each realized it could gain from a deal.


“We know the Achievement Awards are popular,” Carrique says. “And it’s the same audience that we’re targeting. Plus, we know parents watch.” CIBC signed on as a presenting sponsor, meaning it got its name mentioned right up front in the program’s opening and in all the promotion leading up to the telecast.


In return, YTV built excitement and a larger potential audience for the telecast of the awards through a message displayed on the screens of CIBC bank machines urging the bank’s customers to tune in.


For the network, this is nothing particularly new. “It’s part of our philosophy, part of how we sell and part of how we position ourselves to the advertising community,” Perras says. “It took some media people a while to get their heads around the concept. But once they did, it was fabulous the way opportunities opened up.”


Media buyers aim for good numbers for cost-per-thousand viewers and the reach television channels get. On those terms, cable channels look less impressive; their audiences are smaller and specialty services are not ubiquitous, the way regular TV is. But they offer a narrower target with greater certainty to balance their smaller audiences.


Even now, Perras says, many of the sponsorship deals are initiated and put together by advertisers and the network directly. “Sometimes, money for this kind of thing doesn’t come from an advertiser’s media budget,” she says. “It can come from the corporate sponsorship budget or promotional spending. It may be money that the client’s agency wouldn’t be spending anyway.”


Hydro-Québec and MusiquePlus

Stranger than a bank hooking up with a children’s network would be the case in Quebec, where MuchMusic’s sister station MusiquePlus has a sponsorship relationship with the province’s massive power utility, Hydro-Québec.


“We get approached for sponsorships all the time,” says Paul Parré, Hydro-Québec’s manager of marketing and communications. “Usually, it’s something that we think would be very good for us.”


That explains selectivity. But what could a music video channel offer a power company? Part of te answer lies in the methods for media buying in Québec, which differ from their counterparts in anglophone North America.


“We don’t usually buy by cost-per-thousand,” Parré explains. “Sometimes we buy things, then find out that the CPM is pretty good. But it’s not always the most important motivation.”


The relationship between MusiquePlus and Hydro-Québec began with the music-video channel’s tenth anniversary last year. With thousands of hours worth of interviews and performances on tape, the channel decided to dedicate selected weekends throughout the year to a particular year in the channel’s history. Hydro-Québec became the exclusive sponsor, with regular station IDs and other elements letting the viewers know that the retrospective was on Hydro-Québec’s nickel.


MusiquePlus is electrifying, went the refrain, so of course Hydro-Québec is involved; electricity is its business.


“Every day we receive five or six requests for sponsorship,” Parré says. “We had to concentrate our money in a specific niche.” That niche was music.


In addition to helping promote all kinds of music from Quebec — “and when I say that, I mean music by Quebecers, no matter what language they speak,” Parré points out — the utility also helped bankroll the Francofolies music festival in Montreal and a similar gathering in Quebec City. It’s all part of a move to be seen as beneficent to the community and impressing 18-to-25-year-olds. “They will one day be our customers,” Parré says.


The theme continued with MusiquePlus’s Vox Pop, the francophone equivalent of Speaker’s Corner on Citytv of Toronto and MuchMusic. What did the channel’s viewers feel would constitute an electrifying weekend? People lined up to give that answer, with the best responses winning the weekend they described, paid for by MusiquePlus and Hydro-Québec.


“The sponsorship needed some interactivity,” says Louis Panneton, MusiquePlus’s director of sales and marketing. “We had to get viewers more involved.”


“We do a lot of testing for results and how sponsorships or campaigns are working,” Hydro-Québec’s Parré says. “This is working. We’re recognized as being one of the main sponsors of MusiquePlus, and our customers — their viewers — appreciate that.”


An arrangement that was only supposed to last for a few weekends stretched into a year. And now both parties are negotiating how best to extend it into the future.


Parré says that for Hydro-Québec the deal with the music-video channel has been “a real bargain.” And its future will largely be determined by what MusiquePlus decides the cost for continuing will be.


Johnnie Walker, Black Label and CBC Newsworld

When the CRTC relaxed its rules about liquor advertising on TV, some might have expected a sudden crop of commercials for spirits. But no brand was willing to take the risk of being the first. And the high cost of making commercials made that step less likely.


Johnnie Walker Black Label scotch planned to find more drinkers through TV. But it sidestepped the thorny question of how to do that with help from CBC Newsworld.


“This company had no television creative,” says Newsworld account supervisor Ken Lydford. “They had no intention of producing commercials for hundreds of thousands of dollars just to test-market with.”


There was some TV money in Johnnie Walker’s account at agency Leo Burnett in Toronto. It was supposed to be spent during the pre-Christmas run-up, traditionally a good time for boosting liquor sales.


Christian Morandin, a group media director at Burnett, met with Newsworld to devise a strategy subtle enough to get the scotch message across without raising hackles or using a low-key approach so well that nobody noticed.


The two teams decided that adapting another Johnnie Walker promotional tool made more sense. The result was the Johnnie Walker Black Tie Guide to cultural events, a one-minute segment on Newsworld’s weekly program, Gilmour On The Arts.


“The Johnnie Walker Black strategy has always been a tie-in with the performing arts,” says Burnett’s Morandin. “The Black Tie Guide booklet is about 90 pages and lists all the performances in the Toronto area for an entire season.” Presumably, many of the same people reading the guide would tune in a cable channel show covering similar matters.


“Specialty viewers watch for a specific reason,” says Newsworld’s Lydford. “It’s appointment television. They don’t walk in the house at six, flip on Newsworld and leave it on until eleven. Something like On The Arts talks to a much narrower audience, and you have to get to them in a different fashion. They’re discerning but not skeptical. Our research shows they’re more receptive to advertising.”


So, give the viewers what they’ve tuned in for — information — as long as you ensure that some part of that information or the frame it’s in has your sponsor’s message well-displayed on it.


Consistent with the closer working methods that define such agreements, Newsworld pitched in for much of the creative. Using the Black Tie Guide booklet as a resource, the network designed the backdrop for the video guide for On The Arts, animating the brand’s mascot — what else? — walking through the frame.


The fact that the frame contains new information every week means the audience will look at it repeatedly, while the unchanging element will sink in through prolonged exposure. Newsworld and Johnnie Walker have expanded the initial eight-week pre-Christmas run into a continuing 52-week commitment.


“They do a great job of reaching that upscale audience,” Morandin says. “It’s a great fit.”


Hard numbers for the partnership’s effectiveness aren’t available yet; Newsworld and Burnett are working to come up with a means of testing its reach.


“The only thing we’ve been able to measure so far is that last year, the scotch category was down 2 percent and Johnnie Walker Black sales were up almost 7 percent,” Morandin says.


But Burnett is confident enough in its prospects to have put together a similar deal with Bravo!, where it’s called the Bravo! Bulletin Board and runs throughout the schedule.


“Specialty channels tend to be a lot more flexible,” Morandin says. “They take more initiative in understanding the client’s needs. Something like this just seems to stand out more than a traditional 30-second ad; it’s like building the message into the medium.”