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WebEx customers help create new ads

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WebEx Communications Inc., a San Jose, Calif., developer of Web conferencing software, asked its customers to help call the shots while creating a new TV campaign that broke last week. The new effort is a continuation of "The New Ringy Dingy" campaign that launched in January, starring comedian Lily Tomlin.

The ads revive Tomlin’s switchboard operator character "Ernestine" from the "Laugh-In" TV series of the 1970s, but this time Ernestine is a global telecommunications consultant who helps businesses figure out how WebEx software can solve their problems.

The original campaign was developed by BigMouth, a San Francisco advertising agency. The newest executions were developed in-house by WebEx. The campaign, which targets business decision-makers at sales and marketing organizations, includes TV, print, radio and direct marketing.

Cost-effective solution

"Like any advertiser, we want to make sure we’re on message and communicating clearly with our target audience," said David Thompson, CMO of WebEx. "We looked at the possibility of doing in-person focus groups, but then we decided, ‘Let’s eat our own dog food here,’" he said, referring to the company’s decision to use its own Web conferencing software for the research.

He said WebEx opted for the online focus group to get input for the ad campaign because it’s more expensive and more difficult to get people to come to in-person focus sessions.

"Online focus groups are a lot more cost effective," agreed Della Quimby, account director at Avenue A, a Seattle-based ad agency that uses online focus groups for research and ad development.

She said online groups can cost as little as $2,500 but are typically closer to $5,000. In-person focus groups can cost from $15,000 to $25,000, according to industry estimates. More in-depth research, such as linking customer online activity back to survey responses, costs more, she added.

WebEx used its own MediaTone network to link users into an online focus group, which was conducted by Consumer Research Center, San Francisco. The software company recruited panelists via e-mails to its customer base, e-mails sent by its sales force to prospects and customers and a press release that invited the public to attend. More than 250 execs in marketing, sales and manufacturing attended the online focus session.

WebEx had created several versions of the TV commercial with different segments for the beginning, middle and end. Participants could vote on their favorite, and the final commercial was edited based on the winning selections.

The segments that viewers selected reflected their choices for subject matter that was most relevant to them; this helped WebEx create a commercial that was most closely aligned to user interests and emotional appeal, Thompson said.

Final edit based on viewers

WebEx also had shots that presented various calls to action, including the display of an 800 number, the display of the Webex.com URL and an offer to test-drive the software. The only call to action users were able to recall, after viewing the various shots, was the URL, so the company kept that in the final cut.

After the votes were tallied, WebEx edited the final commercial in about three minutes and played it for the focus group participants. It then went to a production studio for final editing and was finished the following day.

A radio campaign featuring Ernestine launched last month on national radio networks, and print ads began running this month in publications including BusinessWeek, Sales and Marketing and Selling Power.

Gary Stein, advertising analyst at Jupiter Research, said agencies have been using online focus groups for a variety of purposes for years, but there are some drawbacks.

"Account planners, as a group, have been reluctant to use online focus groups," Stein said, noting that human responses, such as body language, are lost online.

However, he added, "For copy-testing, such as what WebEx is doing, online focus groups are great. You can expose the creative to more people, have more finely controlled test cells and do it at a fraction of the cost."

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