ESPN Inc. stepped up the gas in a recent
affiliate-marketing campaign geared toward driving tune-in to the network's 1999
NASCAR programming schedule, which winds up late this week.
To help drive new subscriber acquisitions, Century
Communications Corp. -- which has since been purchased by Adelphia Communications Corp. --
offered $10 prepaid gas cards to customers who signed up for the operator's
The co-branded gas card features a full-color graphic of
NASCAR vehicles, designed for its collectors' appeal among NASCAR fans.
"Even if you don't follow NASCAR, the gas card
has universal appeal" to anyone who drives, said Rebecca DiPanni, who was
basic-product manager for Century before the MSO closed its deal with Adelphia.
Century had run similar campaigns promoting individual
programming networks in the past. "We wanted to promote the strength and value of our
basic lineup," DiPanni said, adding that the MSO had a lot of success with
universally appealing giveaways such as phone cards and single-use cameras.
Eileen Allegro, senior account executive for ESPN's
Northeast region, said Century approached the network with the gas-card marketing concept
last spring. "It took us a good six months to prepare for this," she said,
adding that affiliates don't always have that much time to devote to planning a
DiPanni estimated that Century distributed 12,000 gas cards
during the three-week promotion, which ended in late August. The operator sent more than
150,000 direct-mail pieces promoting the offer to nonsubscribers in most of the MSO's
markets. In some systems, the cards were used in door-to-door sales campaigns instead.
Allegro said the acquisition campaign was so successful
that ESPN hopes to develop similar gas-card campaigns with other affiliates, perhaps tied
to other sporting events, early next year.
Attention to detail was crucial in this campaign, which
required a bit more implementation than some simple product giveaways. Because the cards
are accepted only at gas stations that honor MAC (Money Access Center) or related
electronic debit processors, Century sent out a "frequently asked questions"
sheet with each gas card explaining what to look for when purchasing fuel.
"Century worked with the gas-card company and found
out which [oil companies accepted the cards] in which states," Allegro said.
Beyond bringing new subscribers to the fold, Century also
helped to drive tune-in to ESPN through cross-channel spots devoted to NASCAR and printed
schedules of NASCAR races on ESPN and ESPN2, which were available as billstuffers and as
handouts at Century's walk-in centers.
In addition to serving as value-added incentives, the
giveaways also offered Century and its programming partners off-channel exposure while
viewers were out and about, DiPanni said.
Although the $10 card could easily be spent in a single
fill-up, some recipients might have chosen to keep it around longer for emergency use,
DiPanni said. The cards were set to expire at the end of the year.