DASHVILLE NETWORK: MUSIC, RACING & RODEOS RIDE ALONG ON TNN'S FIRST TRUCK TRIP

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Grassroots marketing is sprouting this summer for The Nashville Network as the cable channel goes on its first promotional road trip.

TNN is targeting fans of its diverse programming-music, rodeo and auto racing-through a single, highly versatile mobile marketing unit.

In taking to the road, TNN joins the ranks of cable operators expanding their brands beyond the screen and into the community. TNN is parking its truck at local events, following in the tracks of Comedy Central, Food Network and USA Network, to name a few.

The TNN tour began last month and runs through September; the network plans to meet face-to-face with millions of fans in large and small markets across the country-adjusting its truck along the way to suit the particular audience, whether the vehicle is parked at a race or a rodeo.

The concept was devised last year when cable network executives realized that while 90,000 people were watching a Nascar event covered live by TNN, the network had virtually no on-site presence at the race.

FINDING A WAY TO CONNECT

"It was astounding, but we had no way of connecting with our viewers at the very event we were covering," said Patti Ricciardelli, TNN's marketing director.

U.S. Concepts, New York, devised a 30-foot marketing truck containing several entertainment devices, including auto racing videogames using joysticks, allowing consumers to compete for TNN-related prizes such as T-shirts, hats and music premiums.

The truck, accompanied by giant inflatables set up at the stadium gates of many events, is staffed by actors, a technician and at least one TNN representative.

Launching a face-to-face marketing effort also dovetailed with the joint efforts of Nascar and TNN to incite interest among younger fans in stock car racing.

"The goal was to engage fans with fun activities and hands-on marketing that added dimension to TNN amid the growing number of fan-fest type of marketing operations happening at Nascar auto races. It's becoming a big part of going to the race, to attend the fan-fests," said Brad Bryen, U.S. Concepts exec VP.

But TNN wanted more mileage from its investment. The truck was designed with foldout signage allowing it to double as a marketing unit at rodeos on the Professional Bull Riding circuit, which TNN also covers, allowing rodeo fans to meet top-ranked bull riders. Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light, a sponsor of the PBR, gets signage within the truck's display area when it visits rodeos.

VISITING NASCAR CONCERTS

After the tour began, TNN added another destination: 15 of 33 cities on the recently announced "Nascar Rocks" concert tour starting in June, a new event produced by TNN and its parent, CBS, and Nascar. The concert tour is sponsored by Electronic Arts, Mattel, Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade, TruServ Corp.'s True Value Hardware Stores, Visa USA and Wrenchead.com, among others.

"We realized we had another opportunity to target young fans and get them interested in TNN at these concerts, so we integrated several key concert stops into the tour," Ms. Ricciardelli said.

TNN is in discussions with General Mills to sponsor the truck tour and provide product samples at each event, helping offset costs.

In partnership with radio stations in local markets, TNN will time the appearance of its truck for contests and publicity events coordinated with the event that has lured the vehicle.

SCHEDULING IS CHALLENGE

"The biggest challenge has been scheduling, because with all these events going on at once in different markets, it's a lot of juggling," Mr. Bryen said.

Although this is TNN's first road tour, sister cable network Country Music Television has been plying the byways for several years, accompanying country music concert tours and events. It has five mobile marketing trucks visiting 1,000 local events this summer.

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