Ad Network Buy Drives Tune-Ins for HGTV’s ‘Design Star’

When HGTV’s reality interior design competition, Design Star, moved to Hollywood last year and targeted a younger demographic in its fourth season, its parent, Scripps Networks, launched a display campaign to determine if interactive marketing could help ratings.

The answer is yes. Exposure to the campaign increased viewership by 55 percent – which was accompanied by a boost in viewers among Design Star’s key demographic, women ages 35 to 54. But, what’s more, the campaign also drove online behavior, tripling visitation to the HGTV and Design Star Web sites.

The large-scale display campaign ran on the Google Content Network, PlatformA/AOL Advertising, and ValueClick from July to September last year.

With help from ratings powerhouse Nielsen, Google compared exposed audience numbers to a control group in order to determine ad effectiveness on both online and offline behaviors. Not surprisingly, ratings numbers show the exposed audience was more likely to watch the show and visit the Web site.

Jonah Spegman, manager of interactive media and marketing at Scripps, said Scripps was particularly interested in whether users were sampling videos online. He explains that’s because, “Really the theory would be that if users are willing to sample a video online, it may act as a precursor to them to tune-in on-air.”

The fourth season of Design Star, which began airing in July 2009, was the first season Scripps managed its campaign internally, says Jeffery Kissinger, VP of interactive marketing. The campaigns had previously been managed by outside agencies. He added HGTV was targeting a younger demographic (the target is now women 25 to 54).

Spegman says the display campaign itself was heavily focused on the weekend as the show aired on Sundays. And he added that with the display campaign switching on and off depending on the time of week, it was easy to see when searches were up, which proved that display campaigns have the ability to lift all other mediums, like onsite searches.

HGTV used a mix of flash and static banners, along with text ads and a homepage takeover on a few TV listings sites. A mix of ad unit sizes were used, but Spegman said 300×250 and 160×600 rang up the majority of impressions.

According to Google’s figures, the exposed group in the Google Content Network had a rating of 3.4, versus 3.3 for the total online campaign and 2.2 for the control group in both the Google Content Network and total online campaign.

Adam Stewart, Google’s director of entertainment, said, “Having the actual numbers as reported by Nielsen clearly shows the impact that targeted advertisements can have on an offline activity like TV viewership.”

Exposure to a Design Star campaign also tripled Web site visitation and doubled search behavior for related queries, Google said. (According to Compete.com, the HGTV website had just over 3 million visitors in July 2009 and 4.1 million in September 2009.)

Kissinger noted the campaign also grew HGTV’s Facebook fan page significantly. The page now has about 210,000 fans and Kissinger says it was more firmly focused on Design Star for the eight-week run of the show last summer.

According to Kissinger, there was a bit of fan fervor for two designers last season, Antonio Ballatore and Dan Vickery. While Ballatore eventually went on to win the competition, Vickery was voted the fan favorite in an online poll and now has his own Web series. Nearly three million votes were cast in the poll. And, Kissinger says, the Facebook page was a great place to create awareness and for fans to rally together for Ballatore and Vickery.

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