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Fall advertising season kicks off

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B-to-b advertisers are gearing up for a busy fall, with many planning ad campaigns to introduce new products, positioning and rebranding.

The fourth quarter is historically the strongest one for advertisers as they come off a slow summer, prepare for the holiday season, close out their books and launch products by year's end. This year, political races are expected to push ad spending up even more than usual in the fourth quarter.

TNS Media Intelligence projects that ad spending in the fourth quarter will be up 5.8% from the fourth quarter of last year. By comparison, ad spending in the fourth quarter of 2005 was up only 3.0% over the same quarter in 2004.

So far this year, ad spending in the first quarter was up 5.3% from a year earlier, driven largely by the Winter Olympics, while second-quarter ad spending was up only 2.9%. TNS estimates that third-quarter ad spending will be up 4.6%.

"Third- and fourth-quarter political spending will help total year performance," said Steven Fredericks, president-CEO of TNS. For the full year, TNS projects an ad spending increase of 4.9% to $150.3 billion.

Many b-to-b advertisers, including FedEx Corp., Kodak Graphic Communications, Motorola and USG are rolling out new campaigns this month and next.

FedEx kicked off its fall advertising season Sept. 7 during the opening game of the NFL, broadcast on NBC.

The campaign, an extension of its earlier "Relax. It's FedEx" campaign, was developed by BBDO New York. It includes six humorous 30-second spots showing how FedEx can help small-business customers.

"We were launching ads here and there, and were getting away from the traditional fall launch," said Steve Pacheco, director of advertising for FedEx. "We needed to refresh the campaign. We have lots of new stuff to talk about."

The ads promote various FedEx businesses, including FedEx Kinko's, FedEx Ground, FedEx Express and FedEx Freight.

"The NFL is still a great traditional kickoff to the fall season," Pacheco said. "Once football is in the air, people know it's time to get back to fall programming."

In addition to advertising on NFL games throughout the season, FedEx will also run TV spots on programs including "Today," "Good Morning America," "ABC World News Tonight," "Law and Order" and "The Office."

("The Office" actor Steve Carell starred in FedEx commercials before his movie and TV career took off).

FedEx online

FedEx will also use online advertising, including a Web site at www.fedexfootball.com, developed by Atmosphere BBDO; online video ads (on www.nbc.com/the_office); and its own Web site.

It will also use radio and print advertising in general business magazines and targeted b-to-b publications, Pacheco said.

Agency execs say this year's fourth quarter is looking robust so far, as clients assign more work and increase ad budgets.

"We have ahead of us the most vigorous period we've seen since the collapse of the tech market in 2001," said Rick Segal, CEO of HSR Business to Business, Cincinnati. "The fourth quarter this year is profoundly stronger than last year."

Segal said several factors are driving this growth.

"It's clear that marketing communications departments are now responding to pretty serious mandates from their executive leadership to drive profitable organic growth," he said.

Also, many b-to-b marketers have been acquiring companies over the past decade to build out their product and service offerings within industry categories, he said. "Now that they have amassed fairly substantial portfolios inside categories, they are ready to move into a branding and marketing phase," he said.

Segal projects that HSR's total revenue will be up 43% this year over last year.

One HSR client that is launching a big ad campaign this fall is USG, a Chicago-based building products company. USG, which recently emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is pursuing an aggressive growth plan and will roll out three to four new products each year.

In October, USG is introducing Sheetrock brand dust control joint compound, a product aimed at drywallers and building contractors.

To promote the launch, HSR developed a campaign with the tagline "Down with dust," running in print publications and online. In addition, USG will use direct mail and in-store demonstrations at dealer locations to promote the product launch.

John Favalo, managing director of marketing communications agency Eric Mower & Associates, Syracuse, N.Y., and chairman of the Business Marketing Association, also said business is strong heading into the fourth quarter.

Busy fourth quarter

"I see it as a pretty busy quarter for agencies," Favalo said. "In the fourth quarter, there will be traditional new product launches to jump start the next year, and there will also be launches to support channel activities and work on supporting retail channels where there are b-to-b products."

Eric Mower clients including Kodak Graphic Communications, Motorola and electrical wiring company Pass & Seymour will break new campaigns in the fourth quarter.

Kodak Graphic Communications, a division of Eastman Kodak Co., will launch a campaign in October that is an extension of its previous "Printer Transformation" effort from Eric Mower earlier this year. The campaign will include print ads, online and events. Kodak Graphic Communications has acquired six companies over the past two years, and the campaign is part of a rebranding effort to establish Kodak as the best partner to help commercial printers grow their business.

Motorola will launch a new ad campaign in the fourth quarter, aimed at retailers, for its two-way business radios. The print campaign will be supported by online advertising.

Pass & Seymour, which develops electrical wiring devices for residential and commercial buildings, will launch a campaign in the fall to support its dealer channel, Favalo said. It will include retail support in areas where the building market is still strong.

"Other clients are looking at alternate ways of reaching their target audience," Favalo said.

For example, Eric Mower client Newell/Rubbermaid this year established a NASCAR sponsorship for its Lenox brand of hand tools.

"That was a departure for Lenox," Favalo said. "Clients are looking to reach their audiences in more dramatic ways, through opportunities like NASCAR."

Segal also noted that clients are using more nontraditional means to reach target audiences.

"While they are still evidencing continued faith in traditional trades and business publications, they are much more willing to embrace and fund online in ways they have not historically been willing to do," Segal said.

Many HSR clients have begun to fund more "below the line" marketing activities, including viral marketing, word-of-mouth advertising and events, and will continue to do so in the fourth quarter.

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