Courting Customers Across Channels

If you’re a tennis fan interested in the action at this year’s U.S. Open Championships, you probably already know American Express is one of the official sponsors. If you didn’t, the information won’t be easy to miss. You probably couldn’t avoid it if you tried.

That’s because the American Express campaign surrounding its sponsorship of the tennis championships is one of the most integrated multimedia campaigns you’ve likely ever seen, and its use of interactive and digital media is truly masterful. If you’re willing, American Express will envelop you in its world for the duration of the Open.

In addition to the usual television, print, and outdoor advertising, Amex is sponsoring a fleet of “interactive taxis” in New York City, in which touch screen computers are installed for up-to-date information. Non-taxi-riding fans can get information — sponsored by Amex — via phone, on their fax machines, on an online microsite, via email, or through SMS text messaging on a wireless device or cell phone.

There’s no question. American Express really does own the event. Why? The company is surrounding people with its message and its brand. (Rex Briggs of Marketing Evolution called it “surround sound” marketing.) Day in and day out during the tournament, people are exposed to tennis news and scores along with images and sound of their favorite players — all appearing alongside the ubiquitous American Express brand.

American Express has long been a major presence at the U.S. Open, but this year, realizing its target audience has greatly increased time spent online, the financial services and travel company made the appropriate investment in digital marketing, with help from its agencies: Digitas, MindShare, Momentum, and Ogilvy. The effort began in the days before the tournament started, when the company sent street teams to hand out tennis balls emblazoned with Amex’s logo and a Web site address. Visitors to could enter to win tickets, autographed posters, and postcards. The company’s other microsite features a download of a tennis game for PDAs people can play between matches. Don’t care much for tennis but enjoy the social aspects of attending the tournament? The microsite details celebrity sightings at each day’s events.

Evidence supporting this type of online marketing reinforcement is mostly anecdotal. Amex hired brand researchers Dynamic Logic to assess the effectiveness of its online campaign. Whether they’ll ever share the information remains to be seen. Current Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) marketing mix research (which involves six brand-name advertisers) will likely yield some more hard numbers, but results won’t be in for a couple months.

The most recent evidence we have to support such a marketing plan comes from the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and Millward Brown IntelliQuest. Earlier this year, the two set out to study recall and memorability of online and TV advertising, both alone and in tandem, following a single exposure to the ad creative. The subject campaign was for the U.S. Air Force, created by GSD&M of Austin, Texas. The broadcast ad appeared on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The online ad was a sponsorship on the ESPN Web site.

In a day-after ad recall test, the company found those who had been exposed to both the TV and the online ads were more likely (32 percent) to remember the TV ad than those exposed to only the TV ad (23 percent). Day-after awareness was also significantly higher among those who had been exposed to the online ads (38 percent) as compared to the control group (21 percent).

Another excellent example of this type of effort is Apple’s “Switch” campaign, aimed at converting PC users to the Apple cult. The TV ads and outdoor creative are well reinforced and even augmented by what’s featured online. Not only can site visitors take another look at the TV ads, a feature that has no doubt contributed to Ellen Feiss mania, they also can look at what are presumably the emails that led to the selection of Feiss and all the other “switchers.” Additional “true stories” of PC abandonment in favor of Mac contribute to the argument, as do sections called “Why Switch?” “Questions,” “How to Buy,” and “How to Switch.” Online, Apple accomplishes what it never could on TV: construct a coherent argument, provide examples and case studies, and show the converted how to act on their newfound convictions.

Falling short of this potential is Nike. It recently sent an email to its list with the subject line “See what happened next.” I was intrigued. What I found wasn’t “next,” it was mostly the same old story. The campaign was tied into an ad Nike has been airing on TV recently. In it, audio of an orchestra warming up is accompanied by video of athletes performing the rituals associated with preparing for competition.

Teased by the opportunity to see what happened next, I clicked the email to go to the site. There, some interactive Flash creative echoed, but did little to expand upon, the TV ad. Granted, an athletic shoe isn’t the high consideration item a computer is, but I was disappointed seeing the exact same images I’d already seen on TV. Online should maintain familiar aspects, such as the logo and theme, but should expand upon and advance the story told on TV.

Nike, like American Express, wants you to play its game and enter its world. Stepping onto the court with Amex just seems like a lot more fun.

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