The program is the latest campaign in Philips' McLuhanesque war against the annoyances that come with reading magazines, watching TV and going to the movies, including, at times, ads themselves. As a whole, it's an ingenious stab at injecting Philips' brand message into the ways consumers get their news or entertainment by kicking some clutter out of the media.
"The medium is the message," said Eric Plaskonos, director-brand communications at Philips Electronics North America, invoking Marshall McLuhan's well-worn thinking that the way content is delivered is more important than the content itself. "This is another way to turn the simplicity idea on its head and look for complexities in life."
'Sense and Simplicity'
The program is part of Philips' "Sense and Simplicity" campaign that the Dutch electronics company rolled out two years ago and has extended into advertising, retail and product innovations. The positioning arose out of research showing consumer frustration with the complex functions of their electronics.
On select dates between now and Dec. 17, readers of wsj.com and espn.com who click on premium content will be routed to the stories without having to pay. Rather than taking out their wallets or logging in with already-existing subscriptions, they'll just have to sit through interstitial ads, created by Omnicom Group's Tribal DDB, before getting to their news.
Philips is buying out the full WSJ site on three Fridays and the home page on five Fridays this fall. The ESPN deal will make its "Insider" sites dedicated to the MLB, NFL, NBA and college football free for entire weekends. The total spending on the program is $1.5 million.
Assault on media conventions
Last October, Philips kicked off its guerrilla assault on media conventions that make life less simple when it bought all the national commercial time during an episode of CBS's "60 Minutes." Bucking the trend of advertisers trying to creep further into content, it actually ended up giving back some of that time to lengthen the news segments.
Up next was a $2 million deal with Hearst to eliminate subscription cards from an issue of each of four titles and a $5 million deal with Time Inc. that bumped the table of contents up to the first page. In each case, Philips received prominent ad space in return.
Philips also made some hay out of its attempt to buy movie-screen ad time and use it to start the film earlier rather than making consumers sit through a bunch of ads. The idea found no takers among in-theater ad sellers, but it did gain Philips coverage in The Wall Street Journal.
All these initiatives piqued the attention of the press, leading to stories that have helped Philips, still relatively unknown compared to Sony and Samsung, gain some traction in the U.S. Mr. Plaskanos said the PR acts "as a validator" of the gambits. In the case of the "60 Minutes" takeover, Philips earned 33% higher recall and viewer opinion of Philips increased 38% compared with its other advertising, according to IAG Research.
"It's creating a media plan based on a brand proposition and that's quite wonderful," said Dean Crutchfield, principal at brand consultancy Wolff Olins. "It's building a conversation with the consumer rather than just chest-beating."
Mr. Plaskanos was shy about discussing how these programs have affected media-spending levels, which for Philips are around $140 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. "I can tell you we are spending smarter," he said.