'SuperCroc' Poses as Nat Geo's Ambassador

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Animal-friendly San Diego is the latest stop for National Geographic Channel's "SuperCroc" tour, which brings a life-size skeletal cast of a 40-foot, prehistoric crocodile to museums and other public spaces in partnership with the network's cable affiliates.

Time Warner Cable of San Diego is co-sponsoring the exhibit at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. It opened earlier this month and will run through April 7.

"This seems like a natural destination city," said Time Warner San Diego vice president of marketing Ernie Villicana. "We're home to the greatest zoo and wild animal park in the world."

Time Warner added NGC to its expanded-basic cable lineup late last year. Although it shares the San Diego market with Cox Communications Inc., the latter MSO has yet to launch the channel on its cable system there.

The network created the SuperCroc tour as "a way to bring National Geographic alive to people where it's launching or growing," said NGC vice president of business development Ann Blakey.

The SuperCroc skeleton was discovered last year by paleontologist Paul Sereno, a National Geographic Society "explorer in residence," Blakey said. "The head itself is more than six feet long. It's really scary, especially when compared to the smaller, modern-day crocodiles."

As part of the exhibit, NGC sets up a kiosk from which it runs video clips of its programming and hands out brochures about the network.

Each tour is promoted in three ways: by the network, by the local cable operator and by the venue where it is held. In San Diego, Time Warner promoted the tour through bill inserts sent to more than 200,000 customers.

Cross-channel spots were created to drive cable customers to two Web sites —www.timewarnersandiego.com
and www.discoversandiego.com— where they could win tickets to the animal park.

Although SuperCroc is accessible to children and has been a big hit with school groups, it's directed at adults and backed by scholarly research, Blakely noted.

Adelphia Communications Corp.'s Los Angeles system, which carries NGC as a digital channel, helped bring SuperCroc to the city's Natural History Museum last November.

NCG's heavy advertising support helped the SuperCroc effort stand out from other network promotions, said Adelphia regional community affairs manager Ida Brienza. The network also hosted a high-profile press conference at the museum.

The tour, which launched last November in Washington, is slated to run through mid-2003; the next stop is Dallas.

Blakey said NGC would not rule out working with DirecTV Inc. and one of its retail partners to sponsor a stop in a key city, but said that the tour works well with cable, because of operators' ties to local communities.

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