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Mktg – Road block a strategy to create or avoid tv traffic jams?

Lynn De Souza

According to Wikipedia, a roadblock is a temporary installation set up to control or block traffic along a road. On commercial television, the Lynn De Souza, Chairman & CEO, Lintas Media Group
term is used when an advertiser buys up all the advertising on a channel for a given length of time like a full day (vertical roadblock), or across a band of channels at a particular time, say an hour (horizontal roadblock ), thus preventing any other advertiser from being present at those times.

What the roadblocking advertiser experiences is not dissimilar to what Mrs Sonia Gandhi might be as she cruises down Mumbai’s Western Express highway, past the Sea Link and into Marine Drive. What other advertisers go through is exactly what we do sitting in our cars in the resultant traffic jam, fretting and fuming.

Sonia needs the security, roadblocking advertisers need the impact. An impact that would otherwise be expected to come from superior strategy, smart targeting, skillful innovation , and masterly execution . Rather than sheer table thumping dominance.

The very first roadblock to be attempted on Indian television was way back in 1994 when a small fire extinguisher making company decided to use 9 different commercials to launch its diversification into keepfresh kitchenware. A creative indulgence that a smart media planner chose to capitalise upon by acquiring the telecast rights of a full-length feature film and airing only these commercials in every break, so that the viewer got the whole message about the range at one go. That roadblock worked magic for the media planner’s reputation but did nothing for the sales of the brand. Every Sonia needs a strategy, in order to win results.

It wasn’t until the fall of 2007 that the roadblock re-appeared with a big bang. Vodafone reportedly spent upwards of Rs 10 crore to announce its name change to the world, using a range of short and long commercials exclusively in all breaks, both vertically and horizontally.

The jury is still out on whether the exercise was an overkill or not, and whether it really required all that money, especially when an arguably more effective way would have been to welcome every subscriber to the new service with a simple and free SMS, which purportedly the company did not do! Axis Bank changed its name around the same time as Vodafone did, using a more extensive and ‘normal’ media and scheduling strategy. As far as awareness of a name change goes, however — no doubt Vodafone was more successful.

Vertical roadblocks can take the form of ‘day associations’ to work wonders for a brand and its essence, thus delivering impact not just by hogging up all the inventory, but also by fitting in with what the brand stands for. Bingo worked with MTV to sponsor April Fools Day this year, turning it into a Bakra Din, so much in character with the brand’s irreverent whacky persona. All commercial breaks were exclusive to Bingo of course, but beyond that the content itself was recreated to showcase the brand and its ‘no confusion, great combination’ message. Fake cricketers, spoofing VJ’s , all paid ‘tribute’ to the brand as ‘foolishly’ as possible!

If anyone knows how to make a vertical roadblock work, we have to say it’s MTV. They associated with Nokia on Independence Day last year, promoting the launch of the new N96 through Freedom of Expression. Not a single normal commercial was used. Instead the entire day was peppered with celebrity vignettes branded by the N96, teasers showcasing the features of the product, interactive scrollers offering special mobile downloads of the national anthem, and so on.

In September this year, Unilever embarked on traffic plans of its own, blocking the Star roads on the 17th, the Zee roads on the 24th and the ETV ones on the 29th. Every roadblock so far has been for a brand, these were the first ever for an advertiser, across several brands. Begging the question – were these roadblocks an attempt to generate more attractive inventory by keeping other advertisers from accessing the same, or were they meant to make a disproportionate impact on Unilever consumers?

Lintas Media Group met 240 housewives and working women across four cities, all in the age group of 15 to 44 years, the day after the Star and Zee network roadblocks. We primarily checked out whether recall levels of advertised brands were higher than normal , and whether viewers noticed anything different about their viewing experience that day. Were any extra special brand benefits understood beyond achieving higher recall?

On an average day, the Star Network enjoys a 24% share of total Unilever GRP’s , while the Zee Network garners another 19%. On the roadblock days, this shot up to 55% for the Star Network (ensuring, we hope, an excellent bonus for Uday Shankar and his team), and 47% for the Zee Network (joy for Joy!) . Overall average daily GRP’s for the company doubled from 860 to 1650. If high intensity was the objective, there surely would have been no other way for such a high traffic advertiser to muscle the other vehicles out of the way than to block off the roads. Was such high intensity necessary ?

79% of the women we met did not notice anything different about the day’s viewing. The ‘shock and awe’ factor was therefore limited to the media planning community, and rightly so, since that did not appear to be the objective of the exercise. Recall levels for Unilever brands were however an outstanding 40 to 50% of all brands recalled. (In a day after recall exercise, not-advertised brands will also inevitably enjoy a baseline recall level). Average recall levels per HUL brand ranged from 7 to 16% of the women we met. Perhaps there were specific brand objectives that were met as well.

Overall though it seems that if you give a roadblock a theme that is aligned to brand messaging, and is not just for traffic control, it’s more likely to deliver results beyond expectations for the brand. On June 30th last year, Idea Cellular made a quiet attempt to win over its customers without upsetting the traffic cops.

A horizontal roadblock from 9 to 10 pm across 30 national news, movie, music and entertainment channels announced the start of “what an idea, Sirji!” Prior to that, newspaper ads and teaser tv commercials promoted the new campaign like a movie release. Spontaneous awareness scores within a week of the campaign breaking with the roadblock were the highest ever for the brand.

Not every traffic jam needs a diversion to be solved.

Lynn De Souza is the chairman and CEO of Lintas Media Group

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October 14, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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