IM an “American Idol” Experience

Most people aren’t likely to be happy summer is quickly drawing to a close — unless they work in media buying. We’re just one short month away from TV’s fall season premieres. That’s exciting news for offline and online marketers alike.

Why should Internet media buyers get excited about a new season of TV programming? Cross-media advertising‘s popularity makes TV programming rampant with interactive marketing possibilities. The companies behind some of today’s hottest shows increasingly turn to online promotion. For at least one such organization, IM (define) is one of the main attractions.

FremantleMedia is the international production company that co-produces and licenses “American Idol.” It’s also behind one of the year’s most engaging IM campaigns.

A few months ago, the company partnered with MECA Communications, an online marketing group that designs and implements private label IM strategies, to promote “American Idol: Season 4.” The result was an IM campaign that featured a proprietary IM application, fully branded with “American Idol” content.

Behind the application was a desire to keep the show’s fans interacting with the “American Idol” brand long after the newest episode had aired. That’s why an always-on communication channel had obvious appeal.

“In the ‘American Idol’ Experience Messenger, we saw a platform that was easily accessible, easily used, and with a constant presence for the end user,” said Jason Turner, director of interactive for FremantleMedia. “Our goal was simple: reach as many ‘American Idol’ fans online as possible, with the maximum amount of distribution channels.”

The IM application featured an ad-based “Buddie Remote,” shaped like a TV remote control. The remote allowed users to aggregate buddy lists from other IM platforms and delivered targeted ads. It also included a media channel that provided access to exclusive show contestant photos, interviews, and streaming video and a choice of contestant-themed skins (define) that allowed users to customize their IM text window.

All features, along with the platform itself, were interoperable with Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, AIM, and ICQ.

The branded IM application officially launched in mid-March. Although it can’t share exact download figures, MECA confirms new registrations regularly spiked after shows during which performances and contestant selections occurred. Application users, it says, were very responsive to both application content and advertising, which included promotion of new features, tips, and “American Idol” contests. According to MECA, the CTR (define) for a promotion announcing the release of new skins topped 40 percent, while promotional messages and Tips of the Day averaged 16 percent CTR and 10 percent CTR, respectively.

Given the latest trend in interactive marketing is connecting with consumers on a deeper level, it’s no wonder initiatives such as this are becoming popular for cross-media promotional campaigns. Standard banner ads can be effective, but even traditional advertisers know the Web can do much more than drive traffic to their show sites. FremantleMedia and MECA’s take on an IM campaign goes beyond AIM’s tiny interface ads to deliver a brand experience — one that encourages consumer interaction and keeps the product top of mind. And when the campaign objective is to keep viewers interested in a show that bobs in a sea of reality TV, staying top of mind is key.

If you’re among the many media buyers responsible for promoting TV content this fall, don’t just look to the Web. Also check out initiatives that are particularly effective at engaging audiences. IM applications can simultaneously encourage Internet users to interact with TV-based brands, maintain viewer interest over the course of a season, and represent an outlet through which to promote additional campaigns. If that’s not a reason to buy, I don’t know what is.

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