Broadcast advertisers, who use television, are seeing dramatic reductions in their ad results because of a four-letter word-TiVo. In some ad agencies one can sense that TiVo really is a four-letter word in the most derogatory sense. This reporter decided to follow the actions of what such advertising giants as Ford Motor Company and Shimano are doing creatively to solve the TiVo problem.
What is the “TiVo problem?” It is all about consumers who fast forward through the commercials associated with television shows that they watch and capture in their TiVo systems. Madison Avenue refers to this as “ad avoidance.” Advertisers call this their worst nightmare.
Another term used for TiVo is DVR, which is short for Digital Video Recorder. Nielsen Media Research predicts that DVR ownership rates could reach 10% by the end of 2005, and explode to 41% by 2009. These numbers beg for an immediate and radical solution if broadcast advertisers are to continue using television as a promotional medium. The most intriguing aspect about the whole TiVo issue is that the solution involves the continued use of advertising, but in the shows themselves.
Television show product placement is at the heart of this solution and both Ford and Shimano are using the same award winning national sports show, Inside Sportfishing (www.insidesportfishing.com) to complement their traditional advertising campaigns through extensive product placement. What do I mean by product placement? It is the creative placement of actual product IN the TV show itself. Done in such a way that the products become an integral and important part of the storyline and show itself.
The Survivor reality show is known for its rather blatant attempts to promote certain products, followed closely behind by Donald Trump’s hawking of the goods and services of those companies that advertise on The Apprentice. Many consumers are turned off by product placement that is clumsily done. Michael Fowlkes, founder and Executive Producer of Inside Sportfishing, developed his show over a decade ago, and decided to use the entire format to gently, yet persuasively, promote the shows sponsors. “I went to Ford initially because their trucks literally sold themselves,” states Fowlkes. “All we had to do was figure out ways to showcase the F series trucks in action. It wasn’t all that hard because fisherman drive trucks.”
Fowlkes went to see Richard Landfield, a 20 year Executive Member of the Southern California Ford Dealers Advertising Association, and pitched him on his concept. Simply put, Fowlkes told Lanfield, that the F series trucks were the perfect vehicles to tow his fishing boats around. From running down the rugged Baja peninsula and Central America, to hitting famous fishing holes and bass lakes across the American heartland from Texas to as far north as Alaska. The fit was a natural for Ford, whose trucks are consistent leaders in nearly every truck study concerning the toughness of a truck.
Landfield took the concept to Dailey & Associates in Los Angeles, the agency representing the SCFDAA. They jumped on board and haven’t looked back since. “I was worried about how Inside Sportfishing would integrate the trucks into the series,” concedes Landfield. “After I saw the first program, you could see how Michael was proving our trucks were Ford Tough.” Landfield went on to say that Ford’s whole advertising campaign was based on the slogan “Ford Tough.” During his show Fowlkes would run the trucks through the harshest terrain, which drove home the point about the trucks being “Ford Tough”. “When someone watched one of our shows, and was even remotely interested in a truck, he was talking to the nearest Ford dealership after the show was over,” says Fowlkes “Dealers love the show because it works. It helps them sell trucks.”
Fowlkes then steered his attention to another major player in the sport fishing arena, Shimano, which is well known for it’s rods and reels, bicycle, and snowboard products. Once again, Fowkles vision for Shimano was to showcase the reliability of Shimano’s fishing gear but to do so in a non-intrusive manner.
The President of North American operations for Shimano, Dave Pfeiffer, quickly jumped on board with Inside Sportfishing’s program the minute he learned about Fowlkes’ promotional philosophy. “Placement of product within the content of the show has been very effective for us,” states Pfeiffer. “Michael has a great understanding of how and why we make products the way we do for certain techniques or markets and he instinctively is able to portray them just the way we want. He makes it a point not to be too obvious about it though, so the product really is weaved into the total experience.”
Pfeiffer has also been concerned about the TiVo challenge lately. “There is no doubt that TiVo presents a problem for advertisers and promoters alike,” warns Pfeiffer, “we know our products will be a major part of the action on the show.” Pfeiffer knows that one must develop alternative advertising strategies but didn’t necessarily consider sponsorships at first. “Shimano does not tend to go out ‘looking’ for sponsorships,” says Pfeiffer, “But, we know a good fit when we see it (www.insidesportfishing.com) and then pursue building the kind of relationship that works for both of us.”
Fowlkes is now building yet another strong element to his overall programming presentation. After meeting Rachel Gershwin, Director of Marketing & Development of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego, Fowlkes was immediately drawn to the concept of helping out not just one child and family, but an entire group of kids and their loved ones. “It is amazing how many kids and families are interested in fishing wishes,” Gershwin says, “Michael’s idea of having a boat trip for a number of children and their families was a brilliant idea.”
The idea was received so well by the Make-A-Wish Foundation that they expect to make copies of the taped show, and plan to use them throughout all their local chapters in the U.S. “The more we talked, the more I fell in love with the project,” Fowlkes says.
Fowlkes is in the process of negotiating with additional sponsors who’ve expressed a keen interest in becoming a part of the series. Considering the content and nature of the show, sponsors should be lining up to get involved.
With new advertising challenges cropping up, seemingly every day, led by such new technologies as TiVo, advertisers have to get involved with creative programming. Product placement, particularly the type of product inclusion that “blends seamlessly into the shows is the key to success.” Selecting the right programming partner then becomes the most critical action to be taken.