On July 18, the weekly program "El llamado final" (Final Call) began airing in the competitive 9 p.m. slot on second-ranked broadcaster Canal 13. The hour-long program highlights a 36-hour competition between two pairs—co-workers, siblings, etc.— that are abandoned in an unknown place. To reach the final destination, they must overcome challenges like getting people in a crowded plaza to take off their shoes and herding goats from one corral to another.
Key to moving ahead is a Nokia camera cellphone and Personal services.
Contestants call the host— the folk singer-turned actress Soledad Pastorutti— for clues. They take photos of tasks accomplished with their phones to advance. Images reach them with an unknown person to track down. Text messages bring more information. Help comes from friends at home, thanks to roaming.
The advantage for the marketers is "that there is a lot of time to demonstrate their services and educate consumers, something that is very difficult to do in a 30-second commercial," said Diego Abadie, sales director of Promofilm, the production outfit behind the program. "It makes it possible to show a service or technology that is hard to explain."
This is the first program that Promofilm, a pioneer of the reality format in Latin America, has tailored for an advertiser. The outfit, part of Spain's Grupo Arbol, hired Abadie in May to develop TV programming for marketers with his 14 years of experience in media planning, most recently as operations director of Havas' Arena Media Communications Argentina.
Abadie took the idea for "Final Call" to Personal. It enlisted Nokia and they gained a slot on Canal 13, a broadcaster with higher-end viewers and a reputation for keeping up with technology. In May, Personal and Canal 13 launched Argentina's first live TV feed to cellphones. Part of that deal involved Personal and parent company Telecom Argentina, which is operated by Italy's Telecom Italia, developing content for the broadcaster.
Personal and Nokia are covering around 80% of the $34,000-$41,000 cost of each episode of "Final Call," on par with the average production cost of a 30-second spot, said Abadie.
Personal is looking for innovative ways—"Final Call" is the first program developed for a cellphone carrier here—to build brand loyalty and increase its 33% share of the nation's 9.1 million cellphone subscriptions in a competitive market.
Carriers are heavily marketing new services and technology as subscriptions grow at 30% a year.
"In a competitive market, differentiation is an important factor," said Abadie. "People need to learn about new services and technology, but it must be entertaining. People want entertainment when they turn on their TV, not an infomercial."
%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% Integrating Nokia into "Final Call" proved easier than Personal because of the steady exposure of handsets, said Abadie. To incorporate Personal, they show its logo and name on the screen when text messages are sent. The screen trembles when the host receives a call, drawing more attention to the service.
"Final Call" is the latest advertiser-supplied program in Argentina. With less money available after the 2001 economic collapse, broadcasters and producers have been turning to advertisers to finance shows. Unilever bankrolled a talent contest for its Lux soap products and General Motors developed a sitcom starring its Chevrolet Mervia.
Unifon, Personal's closest competitor, is also trying its hand at alternate branding, though the approach is less integrated and smaller. During a reality show called "Odisea, en busca del escarabajo dorado" (Odyssey, in Search of the Golden Beetle) on Telefe, contestants—all of them celebrities—must take a photo with their camera cellphones during the competition. Immediately after, a pop-up ad shows that the service was provided by Unifon, whose parent company, Spain's Telefonica, also owns the broadcaster and producer of the program.