CTAM Live: Top of The Mark

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 Time Warner Cable New York City has been experiencing heavy competition from Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV and the MSO’s creative advertising department needed to come up with a campaign that would diffuse FiOS’s new kid on the block status without sounding insulting or whining.

Time Warner Cable wanted to promote its phone service (it being the new kid in that sector, competing against incumbent Verizon) and the advantages of its unlimited home phone service, said Therese Berkowitz, Time Warner Cable New York’s creative director.

“We decided to focus on what we have to offer and what Verizon didn’t,” Berkowitz said. “We chose the fact that we don’t have surcharges and Verizon does. We identified our pricing as a clear distinction. Our competition included significant 'surcharges’ on their phone bill that we did not.”

The creative team began playing around with the word surcharge. Richard Brukner, director of on-air promotions, had just returned from a trip to London and had royalty on the brain. Sir Charge was born.

“Our concept was to play off the idea of the surcharges that appear on the Verizon phone bill. We developed the character, Sir Charge, as a personification of the annoying additional surcharges that pop up all over [Verizon subscribers’] bills,” Berkowitz said.

Sir Charge hit the air in June 2007 and gave Time Warner Cable an opportunity to poke fun at the competition and distinguish the cable operator as a better value, she said. The MSO used broadcast, cross-channel, direct mail, outdoor and print ads to drive home Sir Charge’s message and he was an instant hit with consumers, Berkowitz said.

“He just hit a nerve with people,” she said. “People were always asking, 'What the heck are all those surcharges on my phone bill all about anyway?’”

The message resonated with subscribers and non-subscribers, Brukner said. The first spot had a simple message: Verizon takes your money and fritters it away, he said. Not long after Sir Charge made his debut in New York, Verizon raised its phone rates and Time Warner Cable used that as an opportunity to use Sir Charge again. In the second spot, Sir Charge appears in his study surrounded by money and calls the home office to report that the tally is a little short this month. “I’d say it’s high time for a rate increase,” Sir Charge says to the camera.

Sir Charge made a third — and last — appearance earlier this year in what Brukner said was a play off of “Whack-a-Mole” arcade games. Sir Charge pops out of a giant whack-a-mole pinball machine and a giant hammer tries to hit him. Time Warner Cable installed a whack-a-mole machine in its retail outlets. The campaign told consumers about the fact that they wouldn’t receive surcharges with their Time Warner Cable phone service, and get three months free when customers signed up via the Internet.

“People got the joke,” Brukner said. “But it was a one-joke campaign. Comedy often comes in threes and Sir Charge was played out. We retired him after the third ad. The challenge is now to create a new and better campaign to tell our story.”

The campaign was very successful, garnering Time Warner Cable between 400 and 600 incremental connects per week — a lift of as much as 15% — over the campaign windows. The division remains one of the company’s top phone markets, Berkowitz said, noting that while sales spiked during the Sir Charge campaign, they did not fall off when the campaign was shuttered.

Sir Charge may have left the Big Apple, but other Time Warner Cable markets including Los Angeles and upstate New York that compete against Verizon have used the ads as well, Berkowitz said.

“We made Sir Charge available to anyone who wanted to use him and many of Time Warner Cable’s markets that compete with Verizon chose to launch the campaign,” Berkowitz said.

It’s not the first time Time Warner Cable’s New York division has been singled out for top honors by CTAM. In 2005, the division was honored with CTAM’s Top of the Mark award when it created a campaign it called “Hot Button.” The creative team was tasked with coming up with a campaign that would jumpstart digital video recorder sales. The team created a campaign with separate ads addressing different features of the DVR box.

“Time Warner Cable New York has always been a challenging market and the creative team there honed their skills early and it has clearly paid off,” said Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing president Char Beales. “They clearly deserve the kudos they have been given.”

 For more coverage of CTAM Summit '08, click here.

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