Traditional TV ads still work for b-to-b

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Despite challenges from TiVo and the Internet, traditional TV advertising will continue to provide air power for b-to-b marketers that crave the reach and profile it provides. But marketers say careful targeting and creative approaches to new opportunities are required to ensure the TV portions of their budgets are well spent.

Television provides the quickest awareness factor of any medum, said Karen Jones, VP-brand advertising and promotions for shipping company DHL.

"It builds the air cover, if you will, so that the other media-like direct mail, like the Web, like search, like everything else we do underneath that-drag along," Jones said. "We use it as the umbrella platform for gaining quick mass awareness, so that when we have all these other media in the marketplace, it's `Oh, yeah. I heard about DHL, and now I'm going to take action through this other medium.' "

Sheree Johnson, senior VP-media services for b-to-b advertising agency NKH&W, agreed. "Its whole role is the synergistic impact on other media," she said. "They may carry the load in terms of the call to action, be it print or direct mail or online, whereas broadcast is providing reach and coverage to provide you awareness and establish the position."

Jones said television helped DHL's relaunch in 2004, when the company doubled its brand awareness from 19% to 38% in the first four months of its campaign. "It's been pretty doggone good for us in the b-to-b world," she said.

But marketers have different opinions on when and where to reach business decision-makers through television.

"It's not every program and not every daypart that is relevant," said Karen Polsky, exec VP-managing director of Universal McCann, whose largest customer is Microsoft Corp.

News, sports and the Sunday morning political shows remain the traditional broadcast TV homes for b-to-b advertisers, along with financial channels and ESPN on cable.

"What we often look for are environments that are relevant for the message. More serious programming has a tendency to be a little more relevant," Polsky said. "Sports is a great way to reach a big concentration of men, and unfortunately-speaking from a woman's point of view-most of the target audience we speak to in this environment is male."

Sports and news have other advantages in an era when marketers are concerned about digital video recorders' potential to negate the traditional TV spot.

"It's usually something they watch on that day-it's not time-shifted-and we know their attention is up and we can reach them on that particular day," Polsky said. "It's common sense when you think about it. You can watch an entire season of `24' on DVD and follow the story, but if you want to know how the Giants did, you're going to watch the game when it's on."

FedEx visits `The Office'

Steve Pacheco, director of advertising for FedEx Corp., said the old paradigms don't always apply, at least to those making shipping decisions, and that prime-time series can be b-to-b winners if you know your audience and your message. That's why he's buying the hip NBC sitcom "The Office."

"It's really connecting with office workers of all types," Pacheco said. "And I really think it is in the wheelhouse of FedEx comedy, which is a consistent style, tone and manner saying we understand the day-to-day hassles and struggles that office workers put up with, and we're there for you."

DHL's Jones said, "The best time you can reach people is when they're in their entertainment mode and consuming media they really want to see when they're in their down time. And that might not be CNBC, that might be `My Name Is Earl' on NBC."

Pacheco said marketers must also find ways to embrace the fast changes in the medium and alternate forms of video delivery.

In addition to advertising on "The Office" on a regular basis, FedEx this month will advertise on "webisodes" of the show that will run on FedEx may even deliver some commercials with special online-only content as well, Pacheco said. "That's a way of taking our mainline television broadcast budget and having it work in the online world," he said.

Another area marketers and media buyers are watching is mobile video on smart phones, BlackBerrys, iPods and other handheld devices. These "third stream" devices have a lot of potential because "people tend not to make a move without [them]," Pacheco noted.

"I'm interested in finding ways of reaching our target audience in novel ways, although I'm not sure it's going to be the mobile phone environment," Polsky said. "We want to reach our target audience, but we don't want to annoy them. We want them to be more engaged, not less engaged."

The traditional TV environment will be changing as well, with greater adoption of digital and high-definition programming. That, too, is a double-edged sword, Polsky said.

"Production levels always concern me, whether in the HD environment or not, because they can be quite substantial," she said. "But I think the HD and digital environment is a great thing for the people we're trying to reach, and if it means they're spending more time with the medium or they're more likely to watch our ad to see what it looks like in a high-definition environment, that's great."

For some marketers, though, a network broadcast buy may be too expensive or simply not make sense for reaching a target audience.

"Cable is a lot more self-selecting than traditional broadcast, and a lot more affordable," said Chris Philip, senior VP-media director for Doremus. "And since b-to-b budgets tend to be smaller, we need to be a lot more focused and laser-targeted with our buying; and cable allows us to do that."

Philip added: "We work with CNBC to advertise on their ticker, which is a very cost-efficient way to get some branding out there. Of course, you can't do that alone; it has to be part of a whole campaign."

There are, of course, many b-to-b advertisers for whom a trade book or other highly specific medium will always be a better buy.

"If you're a wind power company you can show [a product] on the Super Bowl, and you may coincidentally get those engineers who need wind power machines," said Kevin Arsham, trade media director and b-to-b specialist at OMD. "Well, yeah, they're watching the show, but what's the count? I have 30,000 professionals reading North American Wind Power magazine ."

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