Laughing All the Way From the Bank

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When Valley National Bank wanted to boost accounts among the younger set it placed advertisements for its “Kids First Savings Account” on the Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network Web sites. When Wachovia Bank wanted to reach high-income adults in the greater Philadelphia DMA interested in online banking and investment accounts, it bought a video-on-demand spot on the city’s interconnect.

Financial services are buying into cable big time — first on networks, and more recently on the regional and local levels — often because of cable’s unique technological advantages.

According to spot cable sales executives, the financial services sector is breaking into the top 10 revenue category and growing. For example, Insight Communications Co.’s ad-sales arm, Insight Media, reports that financial spending now represents 6% of its total 2004 billing ($4.5 million) and is now its No. 6 category.

John Tierney, vice president of national ad sales for Comcast Corp.’s ad-sales unit, Comcast Spotlight, says retail banking billings are “significant for 2004 over 2003 and big time significant between 2002 and 2004.” Retail banking alone, Comcast executives say, “tripled in billings” over those same two years.

MSO-run spot rep firm National Cable Communications says financial services garner 5% of its total billings, tripling in growth since 2002, with 2005 “pacing nicely.”

“With spot cable you are better able to reach your customer with very little waste,” says Howard Nass a partner of the New York-based Nass-Hitzig Media.

“A lot of network cable shows have segments that talk about finances,” Nass says. “If you can get a local buy within one of those pods, that’s good, because that financial expertise rubs off [on your commercial]. It’s an implied endorsement.”

He adds, “Banking is retail. It’s local. They want to say 'We care about you’ even if your local bank is part of a huge national company.”

Trust is important in the financial sector, says Kevin Barry, vice president of advertising sales and services at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. “Marketers are realizing that you have to believe in and place spots where there’s an environment that has some equity with the viewers, which spot and local cable has. Banking is a retail business, and you need to place your ad close to the sale.”

“Closer” is certainly the direction Universal McCann clients are headed in. Agency executive vice president and chief operating officer Jean Pool says, “I have mortgage clients and car loan clients and others who are now starting to concentrate on the top 20 markets, instead of national buys. They know those top 20 markets are where the money is.”

But it is difficult to determine by just how much financial clients are growing.

“Spot cable is largely unmeasured,” says CAB president and CEO Sean Cunningham, adding both TNS Media Intelligence/CMR and Nielsen Monitor Plus only track broadcast spot. “But what we’re hearing from our members is that cable’s geo-demographic targeting enhances cable’s ability to attract the financial sector and that an uptick in dollars from that group is real. And it’s an uptick most of our members saw coming.”

NCC, which places spot buys for over 95% of all MSOs, cites seven-figure increases coming in from the financial sector, according to Andrew Capone, the rep firm’s senior vice president of new business development.

“The fact that cable interconnects have exploded — they’re now 130 markets, 82 of the top 100 — certainly helps the four areas we sell: banks and commercial retail, investment services and insurance, savings and loans, and card services,” Capone says.

For example, in commercial and retail banking, NCC has seen “significant” growth from Bank of America and Sovereign Bank. “Bank of America spending has increased dramatically since it bought Fleet Bank in 2004,” he says, adding the spending increases are “in the millions.”

In the investment category, Capone says one client, Scott Trade, is doing 70% of its business online. “Their customer is our customer,” he says. “Cable households are Internet friendly.

Only credit cards remain a challenge. “Visa, MasterCard and American Express are national brands,” Capone says. “But they are on our radar screen. Since Visa and MasterCard are distributed through local banks we’re working with them regularly, and we think we may have something by the end of this year.”

Tierney says, “There’s a world of benefit for financial services in spot cable. Through AdTag and AdCopy segmentation, you can offer services such as online checking, personal banking, ATM, retirement products to very different geographic areas within a single DMA.”

Tierney says Bank of America, Wachovia and Sovereign Bank are also using VOD platforms to create entire showcases for their separate savings and loan and retail banking offerings.

“In Philadelphia, we’ve got over 650,000 VOD households,” Tierney explains. “These are digital homes, high-income homes and absolutely cable exclusive. Wachovia and Sovereign both have their own VOD channels. When a cable customer hits the VOD button, when you click on Spotlight, you can get four- to eight-minute spots showcasing these banks exclusively.” Using Rentrak information systems, Comcast also offers advertisers free monthly reports on how customers are using VOD.

Comcast Spotlight also offers BNUs, branded navigational units, which can be customized to draw people to new networks.

Such technology is unique to cable, and according to Tierney, it’s what’s moving financial sector dollars to spot and local cable: “We alone have the ability to target, to segment, and to offer emerging technology such as VOD.”