In Search of Buzz at Promax


What's the next big buzz-builder? Should we be targeting tweens or "Generation Jones?" And will consumers' well-honed cynicism kick in if we start sneaking brand names into television shows?

Those questions indicate there's more art to the promotion game than science, but the best practitioners shared their most tantalizing viewership hooks at the annual convention of Promax & BDA in Los Angeles recently.

While there were a lot examples of effective traditional commercials, there was an obvious hunger to hear from people who've had success thinking outside the box. One session was jammed with professionals who wished to sit at the feet of Fallon Worldwide associate creative director Bruce Bildsten, whose agency came up with the ground-breaking Web site.

"People don't read body copy. Ads are just posters," noted PBS Corp. senior vice president, brand marketing and promotion Lesli Rotenberg when she introduced Bildsten. "The buzzword is experiential."


Promotion executives have called the BMW of North America LLC campaign, centered around five, seven-minute mini-movies shown on the Web, "the most influential commercial of 2001."

The Web site has registered 13.5 million hits so far. The site is still active and four of the films — including John Frankenheimer's Ambush
and Powder Keg
by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu — can still be seen.

Bildsten said the agency hit on the Internet project because research showed potential BMW buyers are too busy for TV, but 85 percent of them use the Internet to research their purchases.

The agency's goal was to "create something so compelling, they'd come to us," he said, adding that 100 staffers devoted one year to developing the campaign.

He wouldn't talk budget, but Bildsten said the effort wasn't as expensive as one might think. Most of the money went into the production and very little was spent on media buys, he said.

But was it effective? After all, a traditional marketing campaign featuring the Budweiser frogs gained great buzz, but was ultimately dropped because executives at the beer company said it didn't increase sales.

Jenkins said consumer testing since the Web site debuted indicates a lift in response scores for the BMW brand. More respondents say the cars are cool, young, "go like hell," and are safe than before the Web films were screened. They also say, "Lexus and Mercedes are for wussies," Bildsten joked.

He also estimated that coverage of the campaign in major consumer magazines generated $12.5 million worth of free exposure for BMW.

He added more films would be added to the site in the fall.


Turner Classic Movies also took a different tack last year, moving away from "reverential," older-skewing television commercials in favor of an irreverent mini-film presented as a theatrical trailer in selected cities.

"I saw no buzz in really old movies," said Jim Jenkins, commercial director of ad agency Hungry Man. "If you're selling entertainment, you need to be entertaining."

The spot featured a fictional retirement home, where the geriatrics was putting on a stage version of Rocky.

TCM put nearly all its budget into the cinema campaign, which proved effective, according to a network representative. The programmer saw an uptake in households using television data in markets were the spot appeared, and the agency has created two more spots for this summer.

In addition to discussing new ways to talk to the audience, promotion execs also mulled ways to efficiently define that audience. Consultant and pop culture expert Jonathan Pontell maintained that marketers miss a huge opportunity when they market broadly to a 25-to-54-year-old demo.

"There's a unique opportunity for this industry (if you cut) the demo pie into thinner slices," he said. The young and older ends of this traditional demo couldn't live more different lifestyles, he added.

"It's the height of nitwittery to put 25- and 54-year-olds together," he said.

He recommends a focus on what he calls "Generation Jones." Those are the adults he claims that have been erroneously lumped in with baby boomers or Gen X. Generation Jones is a 53-million block of viewers, aged 36 to 48. That segment is 26 percent of the population and was responsible for $1.4 trillion in spending last year, according to Pontell.

This generation "has a postponed quality" and now may "have a jones" to address some of its deferred dreams, he said. The bad economy may also force some of the segment to reconsider their life choices, he indicated. Agencies, such as BBDO Worldwide, are starting to recognize the segment.

Jonesers are pressed by the demands of kids and aging parents and marketers can utilize that. For instance, when introducing a new product, show how it saves time, not by stressing bells and whistles.

Offer them "their own nostalgia," Pontell added, using a Nick at Nite promotion as an example. The net is recreating the No.1 Thursday night programming block of the 1970-80 with Cosby, Cheers,
etc. The promo featured Cheers
characters discussing a top Joneser childhood memory, The Brady Bunch.
That's a Jones trifecta, he said.

Jonesers are at a point in their lives where they are eminently reachable, he said, but the phase won't last long. "Recognize our unique interests and needs, play to our deep sense of entitlement," he advised.


It's obvious that some of the "out-of-the-box" thinking includes ways to move advertising into the programming. Product placements are becoming a hot topic, especially in an era when personal video recorders allow consumers to zap commercials more easily out of a replay.

For instance, Fox's American Idol
has a promotion deal with Coca-Cola, so contestants are seen with those drinks in their hands.

producer John Wells expressed ambivalence. It would be nice to eliminate all the generic products used on television, but "you'd need 35 people, full time, just to get clearances on all the stuff."

Placement deals in the first-run window also complicate syndication and cable deals, panelists indicated during a keynote session. Such arrangements work best in sports or reality programming, where there are no reruns.

Some placement deals are more subtle: ER
needed thousands of dollars of medical equipment in order for the set to look authentic, so the producers contacted manufacturers to get machinery free in exchange for "exposure," he said.

Home Box Office president of original programming Chris Albrecht, said studio contracts for his premium network guarantee no advertising. However, that network too gets products free in return for exposure.