NBC has quietly begun marketing a viewer affinity group called NBC Club that, for a $24.95 annual fee, gives members discounts on NBC merchandise as well as savings on products and services from advertising partners.
ABC is considering starting a similar club, a move that would take the marketing efforts of two of the Big 3 broadcast networks into a new, brand-oriented dimension.
Such programs offer more tie-in opportunities for local and national advertisers, and permit the networks to get into the lucrative database marketing field by accumulating viewer names, phone numbers and addresses.
"This is an innovative way to promote our stars and shows as well as create another revenue source," said Bill Mercurio, NBC's director-marketing strategy and development marketing and the network's point man on the project. "The NBC Club is an example of a new product that supports our brand."
Fox has been quite successful with its Fox Kids Club, but doesn't plan a similar program for adults. CBS said it has no plans for such a club.
Carlson Marketing, Minneapolis, is helping set up the NBC Club; its well-known sister division, Carlson Travel, will likely be enlisted as a club partner to offer discount vacation packages.
ANHEUSER-BUSCH A PARTNER
NBC's initial partners include Anheuser-Busch Cos.' Sea World and Busch Gardens; MCA's Universal Studios theme parks; Ping golf equipment from Karsten Manufacturing Corp.; TV Guide; Entertainment Weekly; and five movie theater chains-AMC Entertainment, Cineplex Odeon Corp., General Cinema, Sony Theaters and United Artists Theaters.
NBC is also close to a deal that would give NBC Club members discounts on United Airlines flights, while United Mileage Plus members could use program points to join NBC Club.
The strategic plan also calls for enlisting regional advertisers as NBC Club partners and gives NBC names for advertisers to target with specific offers.
CREDIT CARD CONSIDERED
Also under consideration is a deal with NBC parent company General Electric Co.'s GE Capital Corp. for an NBC Club-branded credit card.
Earlier this month, the network started running 10- and 20-second promotional spots created in-house for NBC Club in daytime, urging viewers to call 1-800-PEACOCK for details, Mr. Mercurio said. He said several thousand calls have been received.
Future spots are planned for other dayparts, and NBC was to begin promoting NBC Club on its Internet site (http://www.nbc.com).
T-SHIRTS AND DISCOUNTS
NBC Club members, who must be 18 or older, receive a free T-shirt with artwork from either an NBC Entertainment or NBC Sports program when they sign up. They also get 50% off NBC studio tours in New York and Burbank, Calif., and 20% off any item in the network's merchandise catalog.
A big part of the club will be a monthly newsletter with additional offers and stories about NBC series.
"We hope to eventually co-brand the newsletter with local affiliates," Mr. Mercurio said.
NBC's cable networks, CNBC and MSNBC, will be promoted by the club as well.
GIVE CREDIT TO COHEN
Mr. Mercurio credited Alan Cohen, the NBC marketing maven who left for the top marketing post at ABC in March (see story on Page 3), with the original idea of creating an integrated marketing affinity group.
Executives close to Mr. Cohen at ABC said he plans to start a similar club at that network.
"With our ties to Disney and ESPN, it would be a natural," said one ABC executive, referring to ABC owner Walt Disney Co. and ABC's all-sports sister cable network. Mr. Cohen was traveling and could not be reached.