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SPECIAL REPORT: Marketers tune in to TV’s power

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It’s an exercise in nostalgia to recall the days when what you watched on TV was whatever was delivered by the big three networks and their local affiliates, and the bulk of the small screen advertising was from the big, national consumer brands.

Today, marketers look at TV as an increasingly targeted medium, segmented by six broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN—and dozens of cable stations ranging from broad channels such as TNT and USA, to the specialized ones, a la Sci Fi Channel and Comedy Central. With the workplace cluttered with mixed messages, more and more b-to-b advertisers are being drawn to TV to reach business decision-makers outside the office in a relatively uncluttered setting.

For many b-to-b marketers, such as insurance companies, financial service firms, office supply retailers, and, despite heavy market declines, technology and telecommunication companies, TV affords instant credibility with viewers and enables b-to-b players to build brand awareness from the get-go of a new campaign.

Jim Speros, chief marketing officer at Ernst & Young L.L.P., said the professional services firm launched its "From thought to finish" ad campaign more than two years ago with a high volume of ads on both broadcast and cable TV, including CNBC and Arts & Entertainment shows. Speros said the TV ads did a good job of building brand awareness with a wide audience. Ernst & Young continues to advertise on TV as a supplement to print and outdoor advertising for sustainability.

Beyond sports and news

Historically, sports and news programming have been the first choices among b-to-b companies targeting a C-level TV audience, said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research at Horizon Media Inc. After all, that’s what senior executives, mostly men ages 35-49, normally watch on the tube.

But, while sports and news programming still garners a fair share of b-to-b ad dollars, the success of several cable networks and the mass appeal of some network shows—not to mention changes in the workplace—have brought b-to-b into new venues in recent years.

"More women are making business decisions and men do not necessarily just watch sports anymore," Adgate said, referring, for example, to the current CEOs of b-to-b giants Hewlett-Packard Co. and Xerox Corp.

Another factor contributing to the higher volume of b-to-b ads on TV: Deep-pocketed technology companies, such as AT&T Corp., IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., have filled the void in ad inventory left by consumer marketers that have been priced out of the TV market in the last five years.

Yet another trend is the growth of the small office and home office (SOHO) markets, which have broadened the number of purchasers of business products. "It makes sense for the Microsofts and the Staples to do selective b-to-b advertising on TV," said Abby Auerbach, exec VP of the Television Advertising Bureau.

B-to-b advertising is an "important area of development, especially in local markets where there’s new business development,"Auerbach said.

Power to choose

IBM spokesman John Bukovinsky, said the company spends about 50% of its worldwide ad budget on TV. "To us, TV is not necessarily a consumer medium," he said. "TV viewing patterns cut across all demographics and within certain shows you’ll certainly have a high demographic for the C-level executive."

With all the choices available, b-to-b decision-makers and thought leaders seek out shows they can identify with. This holds especially true for cable television, where the household income is 39% higher than in households without cable, according to Mediamark Research Inc.

"Cable offers rifle shots of access to the right target audience," said Jerry Dominus, VP-network sales and marketing for the Cable Advertising Bureau. He added that b-to-b companies choose TV programs that will put their brands in the best possible light with shareholders, potential investors and the business community. And there are many shows to choose from, including the bevy of business-related programs on CNBC, CNN and Fox News Channel.

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