Top consumer brands have long relied on signature characters to promote their products and services.
Now at least two cable MSOs-Cox Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co. Inc.-are recruiting recurring characters of their own to lend personality to their advertising and branding efforts.
In a new campaign launched last week, Cox enlisted "The Cable Guy" to help sell products from basic cable to digital, high-speed data and telephony.
The somewhat irreverent character appears in television spots, radio ads and direct-mail pieces. And last week, he helped to launch the operator's newly revamped Web site, which allows consumers to order Cox services online.
Insight hopes the young married couple portrayed in its four new digital-cable spots will help prospective customers to identify more readily with new features such as digital music channels, electronic programming guides, movies on-demand and the company's "LocalSource" television-based data service.
"We used the couple throughout the ads to have someone our viewers can form a relationship with," Insight vice president of strategic marketing Heather Wright said. "We like the idea of keeping some continuity so that when viewers see the couple, they automatically think of Insight."
In ads that broke two weeks ago in Insight's Rockford, Ill., system, and that will move next to Columbus, Ohio, and Evansville, Ind., a young couple banters back and forth about their plans for the evening, demonstrating how digital cable fits into their everyday lives.
In one ad, the EPG saves the day after a husband searches unsuccessfully for a printed program listing, eventually finding it at the bottom of a birdcage.
Wright said the couple would also appear in a 30-minute infomercial designed to walk new digital-cable customers through all of the features of their service.
Cox could use the Cable Guy character in its ads throughout the rest of the year if the initial campaign is successful, vice president of marketing Joe Rooney said.
The character pokes fun at television viewers who don't take advantage of all of the services available from Cox.
In one, the Cable Guy teases a woman using a microwave oven, and suggests that she can learn to cook with Food Network programming found both on-air and online.
In other ads, the Cable Guy asks a viewer who is still using rabbit ears for his television set if he has an old Gremlin car in the driveway.
"I want to be edgy without being too edgy," Rooney said, "to break through the clutter without being offensive. If we stepped over the line, I hope it was worth it, making the phones ring with new customers."
The character in the Cox ads was not modeled after the movie The Cable Guy, Rooney insisted. "We were cable guys long before the movie," he said, adding that Cox customers "like our installers."
The new Cox campaign is the MSO's first comprehensive campaign designed to sell bundled services of voice, video and data, Rooney said. "If you're getting connected with Cox, we might as well get you connected with all three products," he added.
Most of the spots feature the MSO's Cox@Home high-speed-data service (although some of the systems still market the service as Road Runner or Cox Express).
"It's really the breakthrough product that no one else can match," Rooney said, "and we're in a market-share race for high-speed service."
In the past, Cox had used different agencies to create ads for the different products. This acquisition campaign was created by BBDO South, which also designed the MSO's "Now You're Living" branding effort last year.
Toledo, Ohio-based ad agency Tailford Cooper Smith Inc. wrote the scripts for the new Insight digital-cable spots.
Unlike the Cox acquisition ads-which, in many cases, include free-installation or free-service offers at the end-the Insight ads have no strong call to action. Wright said the campaign was designed as image and lifestyle advertising.
In Rockford, the Insight ads broke first on cable cross-channel, and the system plans to add broadcast to the mix by early May.
"Up until recently, we weren't able to do mass marketing" for digital cable, Wright said, because the digital service was rolled out node by node.
Although Wright would not disclose its budget, the digital-cable campaign-dubbed "A Whole New Way to Watch TV"-is one of the largest undertakings Insight has done in years, she said.
"The scale of this product has warranted the kind of support and funds we've put behind it," Wright said. "As a company and an industry, we should be getting up on the rock and shouting about this product."
Insight has said that it aims to place digital cable in 50 percent of its customers' homes within the first five years of service. Wright noted that the company has already seen penetration of 20 percent in its first rebuilt markets, and that's before mass-marketing efforts began.