TV VIEWERS WILL GET TO VOTE ON ISRAELI MILK AD PLOTS: TNUVA'S SOAP OPERA-LIKE CAMPAIGN GETS 50% BUDGET BOOST, TO $20 MIL

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[tel aviv] Israeli dairy products marketer Tnuva, fresh from airing the first TV commercial filmed in space on the Mir space station, this week takes another innovative marketing step with a series of 16 new commercials whose course will be determined by TV viewers.

In the battle to change the milk-consumption habits of Israelis, Tnuva and ad agency Gitam/ BBDO have created commercials in which members of the public will be able to call in each week after a commercial is aired to determine the series' unfolding plot.

The interactivity is provided by a special computerized telephone service.

A MARKETING PROBLEM

"We had a marketing problem," Tnuva Marketing Manager Ofer Bloch told Advertising Age. "Israelis [see] milk as a kids' drink or something to add to coffee."

Milk consumption in Israel has dropped 17% since 1986, to 45.6 quarts per capita per year, below the U.S. and its 95.4 quarts a year.

"Changing these consumption habits doesn't happen overnight," said Moshe Theumim, chairman and CEO of Gitam/BBDO, and it was that goal which inspired the series concept.

Instead of running the same commercial over and over, he said, an ongoing, dramatic series in which audiences are involved in the plot has more chance of slowly changing perceptions.

Tnuva studied milk advertising in other countries, including the U.S. "Got milk?" campaign, and concluded that in Israel a lifestyle and consumer-identity approach was key, since promoting milk from the health perspective would fail.

"Israelis know that milk is healthy; they just don't drink it," Mr. Theumim said.

LIKE A SOFT DRINK

Tnuva decided on a three-year plan for a "behavior modification campaign" to get locals to drink milk as they would a regular soft drink. During seven months of planning, pilot commercials were created to test with focus groups.

"The public response was in favor of seeing young Israelis featured in the commercials and against the glitzy, celebrity promotion approach," Mr. Theumim said.

The agency came up with the concept of a "Melrose Place"-like series of 90-second commercials featuring four young Israelis living in the same apartment block in Tel Aviv, an ideal setting for positioning milk as an everyday drink.

VOTING ON PLOT TWISTS

The interactivity begins at the end of the fourth commercial. Audiences will be given plot options-such as helping one of the characters choose a new roommate-at the end of each commercial and, by telephone, will be able to vote on which direction the series takes.

The script for each new commercial will be based on these answers, and the next spot will be shot on a specially built set every week for 12 weeks. Another series of commercials is in the pipeline for 1998, and a third series for 1999 is planned.

Each TV spot will have one character saying, "Don't forget your milk."

The commercials will air every Monday night on Israel's Channel 2, after the evening news when ratings are their highest, and 30-second teasers will appear throughout the week.

Tnuva increased its ad budget this year by 50%, to $20 million.

The ad series also is being promoted via outdoor advertising.

The campaign carries an added bonus for the agency, said Mr. Theumim: Each of its 140 employees will appear in cameo roles.

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