Charter Pipeline Hits the Road in N.C.

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In North Carolina, as in other parts of the South, auto racing reigns supreme and a flashy vehicle always commands consumer attention.

In that spirit, Charter Communications Inc.'s central North Carolina region last month took the wraps off its newest marketing tools: a pair of mobile vehicles that enable the operator to demonstrate its high-speed cable modem and digital cable services anywhere workers can drop a line.

Charter's road show is steered by a 40-foot trailer equipped with a home theater and separate computer demonstration room, as well as a Chrysler PT Cruiser loaded with custom surfboards. Both vehicles sport the logos of the Charter Pipeline high-speed cable-modem service and Motorola Inc.'s broadband cable-modem group, cosponsor of Charter's mobile marketing tour.

The best way to get consumers to buy new services like high-speed Internet access and digital cable is to get them to test drive the products, according to Charter central North Carolina group vice president of operations Landon Barefoot.

"And the best way to do that is to get the product to them," he said. "That's where the mobile campaign came in."

Charter plans to drive the trailer to a number of events throughout its region, including home and garden shows, business expositions, malls and other retail locations, as well as schools and outdoor festivals.

The trailer comes equipped with its own power generator, so a cable drop is all that's needed to activate the demos, which include a 36-inch television and 10 flat-screen computer monitors.

Because the MSO uses Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS)-compliant cable-modem technology throughout the North Carolina region, the demonstration trailer can be used anywhere Charter service is available.

Charter executives said the campaign's biggest expense was the initial outlay for the vehicles, and the incremental cost for each event will be small.

Weighed against the cost of newspaper ads or billboards, the investment was worthwhile, Charter executives said.

Depending on the venue, Charter's mobile marketing crew may include sales coordinators to take orders for the new services. Those products can be activated online from the truck.

Charter also plans to use the mobile marketing tools to help promote newer products as they're launched. The company plans to introduce video-on-demand in Hickory, N.C., within the next 60 days, said Barefoot.

Hickory Motor Speedway-one of the original National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) tracks and still host to some lower-circuit races-is one of the upcoming mobile tour stops. The company already has a billboard at the track, said Charter central North Carolina group director of advanced services Ken Ross.

The cable operator also plans to drive its customized PT Cruiser onto the ball field during promotions with the Hickory Crawdads, a local minor-league baseball team.

Charter and the region's chambers of commerce are also working to set up computer cafés, which will operate in area business districts during lunch hour, said Charter central North Carolina director of sales and marketing John McNelly.

Bringing the trailer to schools would allow Charter to promote high-speed technology not only to students, but also to their teachers, Barefoot said. Such efforts will also buttress Charter's relationships in schools that may have underutilized its past Cable in the Classroom promotions.

Postcards and posters highlighting the custom PT Cruiser will be used to draw consumers to the events.

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