BURNETT GNOMES HELP RELAUNCH ITALIAN TV NETWORK

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(June 13, 2001) ROME -- The long-awaited relaunch of Italy's smallest TV network will start next week, but it's already being heralded by dozens of plastic lawn gnomes that have mysteriously started appearing at some of Italy's best-known landmarks.

Bcom3 Group-owned Leo Burnett Italia is orchestrating the relaunch, which will officially change the name of Italy's seventh largest network from Telemontecarlo to La Sette -- Italian for "The Seventh." The ad campaign alone carries a price tag of around $9 million.

Both Telemontecarlo and Leo Burnett have so far been tight-lipped about the campaign, but it has been reported that it will star the gnomes, which unexpectedly started appearing outside several locals, including Milan's opera house and the prime minister's office in Rome.

"This has people thinking about the campaign even before it starts," said Rino Cataufori, a media commentator. "It's great marketing."

Yellow pages publisher and Internet portal operator Seat Pagine Gialle agreed to acquire Telemontecarlo for around $355 million last year, but legal hurdles held up approval until May.

With those problems mostly cleared now, Seat Pagine is free to concentrate on developing Telemontecarlo into a legitimate rival to the state-run RAI broadcaster and Mediaset, the holding company controlled by media tycoon and new Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. RAI and Mediaset own three networks each.

Seat Pagine says it is hoping the ad campaign and synergies with its Internet properties -- La Sette's logo is similar in style and color to Seat Pagine's popular Virgilio.it portal -- will help Telemontecarlo boost its market share from the low single figures and, more important, to turn a profit for the first time in years.

"La Sette is clearly throwing the gauntlet down in front of RAI and Mediaset," Mr. Cataufori said. "Do you think it's a coincidence that more than a few of those gnomes appeared outside the prime minister's office? Starting [June 11] that office is where the man who indirectly controls both RAI and Mediaset will work."

Leo Burnett says the campaign will swing into full force the week of June 18, less than a week before the network's June 24 relaunch. It will aim straight for what the network is hoping will be the country's best market niche: younger viewers and lifestyles. Its first move in that area has been its acquisition of the rights to MTV Networks' Italian operations. -- Eric J. Lyman

Copyright June 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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