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FISHING FOR SALES THROUGH CABLE NICHE PLAYERS LIKE LURE MAKERS SEEK OUT SPECIALIZED FARE

By Published on .

Cable's abundance of narrowly targeted programming can put a vertical hold on the nation's niche marketers.

Once confined to print or an occasional broadcast special, smaller, specialized advertisers now have the opportunity to reach a broader audience by using cable. Many are using the medium exclusively for their TV spots.

For instance, when Carmichael-Lynch Account Supervisor Tom Mackin is looking for a place to showcase Rapala fishing lures, he turns to the array of cable shows dedicated to the sport.

"I don't think there is anything more targeted than the fishing category," he says. "We can buy a saltwater fishing show or a walleye fishing show or a bass-fishing show."

Outdoor fare on ESPN and TNN "are a very targeted and efficient way to reach [Rapala's] audience. There is no waste involved. It is buying TV with the same strategy we would buy print," he says.

As a bonus, "Mass merchandisers like Kmart Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores are looking for nationally recognized brands and nationally advertised brands," Mr. Mackin says.

The executive claims this kind of exposure adds leverage in negotiations with retailers that small companies might not otherwise have.

Although Frank Foster, VP-marketing at Ahead Inc., initially tried print ads to get the word out about the company's Virtual Guitar interactive CD-ROM game, "We are now focused mainly on promotional venues, and MTV is our communication vehicle," he says.

The music video network is "by far the most cost-effective way to reach our target audience" of 10-to-17-year-old males who are "musically aware."

"The awareness that we were able to generate all over the country has been amazing," he adds.

John Shea, senior VP-marketing for MTV, explains: "I think we are blessed with a very defined audience and a very heavy concentration on particular aspects of that demographic. .*.*. Niche marketers are kind of similar to niche audiences in that word-of mouth has resulted in a lot more people coming to us for that reason."

When road salt marketer Akzo wanted to get its message out via cable, they found a natural: The Weather Channel.

"Basically, it fits that particular product beautifully," says Mary Kay Warner, PR manager for Akzo Nobel Salt.

"The main thrust of the ad is to promote the safety aspect of using" the product, she says, and to push "consumers to get on the crank" and urge their municipalities to buy it.

Akzo buys the Weather Channel only during the winter months, Ms. Warner says, and is particularly pleased with the added opportunity to sponsor winter storm updates. "It is just a perfect match for us."

Joe Ostrow, president-ceo of Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, says that cable channels offer advertisers "a rifle shot vs. a shotgun blast [of broadcast]."

"You pick the demographic and you are going to find more opportunity to reach those people" via cable, he says. "If you are a marketer who has a very sophisticated understanding of your target .*.*. you can get a lot more exposure" for the same investment.

Although cable TV has long been known for its bevy of fast-talking infomercial spokesmen, Mr. Ostrow points out a new breed of huckster appearing more frequently: politicians.

"There has been a tremendous movement of political money to cable," Mr. Ostrow says, "An absolute groundswell of use by political people."

In this case, however, the reason is often more geographic than demographic.

"The geographic segmentation [of cable systems] is very much like the way they slice up districts in the assembly," Mr. Ostrow says. This allows candidates to reach potential supporters in narrowly targeted districts with less waste.

At Family Channel, where Senior VP-Managing Director of International Family Entertainment Steve Lentz estimates $1 million worth of advertisers exclusive to the network, the draw may be more the overall medium than a specific message.

"Family Channel specializes in wholesome, G-rated family fare," he says. "It's classy, it's clean, it's non-controversial."

Advertisers exclusive to the channel include Great American Entertainment and Toddler University, Mr. Lentz says.

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