ABC's online service applies guerrilla tactics

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New Yorkers who ride the bus, quaff coffee or pass by a construction site this week will be confronted with some surprising ad spokesmen: Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Nelson Mandela.

Those newsmakers figure prominently in a new "guerrilla marketing" campaign for hitting the Big Apple. The online news service is taking it to the streets to reach office workers, who studies show are going online in unprecedented numbers to keep up with breaking news during the day.


"Ten years ago, people came to work with coffee and a newspaper. Now they are going to secondary sources for news," said Frank Henson, VP at J. Brown/LMC's Internet division, Solutions Marketing Group, Stamford, Conn., which created the campaign. Research company "Jupiter Communications has declared [online] prime time [as] 12 noon to 4 p.m."

Now that it's permissible for people to access the Internet during office hours, it's become "the only medium you are allowed to have at work," he said.

It was this realization that spawned the advertising, said Katherine Dillon, VP-general manager,

"It was the time in our lives to build an awareness campaign," she said. "We wanted to launch bold advertising that . . . caught people's attention."

Thus the towering images of the people cited above as well as U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Attorney General Janet Reno and others that will wrap every-other-city bus in New York for a month.

In cheeky style, copy connects both the newsmaker and the act of checking out news via computer.

"He's available for dictation at your desk," says the ad featuring Saddam Hussein, with the copy, "Get the news on dictators, despots and assorted tyrants." The execution with Ms. Albright states: "See what's in the cabinet at lunch. Get news anytime. No special appointment needed."

The unifying tagline is " Ready when you are."


"In building the campaign, we looked at it intensely from an off-line advertising standpoint," Mr. Henson said. "Most of the [news service] advertising is one-dimensional. We wanted to be more usage focused than feature focused." also decided to steer clear of yellow, the arresting shade used in ads for broadcast TV network ABC, because that color represents the entertainment division, Ms. Dillon said.

She declined to quantify spending on the effort.

To both reach commuters and keep the flavor of the ads' creative bent, Ms. Dillon said the company opted for "non-traditional, guerrilla-type media." In addition to buses, ads will be splashed on 100,000 Metropolitan Transit Authority subway fare cards as well as coffee cups and wild postings.

Nationally, a 10-second promo will air on ABC and banners will appear on other sites in the Walt Disney Co.-owned Buena Vista Internet Group to which of the network--belongs.


According to PC meter company Media Metrix, which last week released a list of the top 25 digital media and Web site ratings for January, was No. 5 in the at-work category, behind Microsoft Corp. sites, Yahoo! sites, Lycos and America Online.

The choice of J. Brown/LMC as the agency for the effort also is unusual. Brown is known mainly for its package-goods clients and specializes in co-marketing with retailers.

Rob Saffer, director of marketing, said he became familiar with the shop through Mr. Henson, who worked with him previously at MTV Networks.

"We figured that with a smaller agency, we'd get more attention," he said.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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