Tue May 20, 2008
The principles of viral marketing have come into the mainstream.
A case in point: Great American Country's "mobile marketing program," which is using social influence networks to help the cable television network in its bid to move up from its number two ratings position.
According to Scott Durand, Vice President of Marketing, "country artists have been successful because they have gone out and interacted with their fans, and country as a genre promotes itself with that same 'go out and touch the people' mentality."
Durand took this insight to another level this spring with network promotions during the Trace Adkins concert tour, which Great American Country (GAC) sponsored.
The key innovation was the "Game On Lounge" (named for Adkins' hit song, "I Got My Game On"), which attempted to bring opinion-leading country fans in contact with GAC programming as they waited to meet Adkins before each concert.
Durand says that GAC recruited these fans through a series of contests prior to each concert.
"There's always a sponsoring radio station in every city when big tours like this go out," he explains. GAC made 60 - 80 concert tickets available for each station to give away, and these all included a pass to the Game On Lounge.
Though individual stations gave the tickets away as they wished, they generally used them in contests rewarding loyal listeners enthusiastic enough about Adkins and country music to go through no small effort to win. The airtime for the contests gave GAC a certain opportunity to build their brand, but the effort it took to win also ensured that the majority of people who visited the lounges would be dedicated, vocal fans - the people most likely to make a difference in a word-of-mouth campaign.
"Trace is a very entertaining person," Durand says, so the experience was a very positive one for the fans. Adkins took the time to briefly meet each fan at the gatherings, and he also shared stories about his appearances on "The Celebrity Apprentice" this spring. "Now he could never reveal the next pieces of the show, but he could talk about the personalities that were involved, and he talked about his own show and his videos: all things that people had questions about."
Durand says fans would typically arrive 30 - 60 minutes before Adkins' appearance, and GAC used that time to show videos of his performances on "GAC Nights" and other network programming, as well as network promotions. Fans left knowing that they could regularly see more of the music and video entertainment they enjoy by tuning into GAC. Durand's basic strategy - that they would spread the word about the network to other country fans - was assured.
Making it possible
A basic problem for GAC's mobile marketing program has been the means of bringing high-quality, large-screen video to fans in a variety of settings where conditions are difficult to predict or control.
Projection might be an option, but varying lighting conditions would make its use difficult at best. Instead, Durand chose to display their video on a 42" LCD display, which was large enough for these small audiences and able to hold up under bright lights and unpredictable glare. But flat panel displays are fragile and Durand was faced with the issue of transporting it easily and safely.
"What we found was a shipping case that had a hydraulic lift inside, so we could use the monitor without transferring it to another stand," Durand explains. As important, the case, the RotoLift from Wheeling, Illinois-based Jelco, Inc. "looked attractive and made it look like a professional operation."
"Whenever you need to transport flat-panel monitors, you need to think about the safety of your people as well as your gear," says Jelco's Sales Manager, Jerry McComb, who worked with GAC on the project. "In an extended tour, when you're lifting a 100 pound device on and off a stand over and over again, injury becomes a real issue."
The GAC tour staff responsible for transporting and setting up the video system, reported they only "had to pop the tv out of its case, put on our skirting and we were ready to go." The Adkins crew would roll the case off their truck and hand it to the GAC tour representative, who took it from there on their own.
An ongoing program
Durand says GAC is bringing the LCD display in its RotoLift case on its annual summer bus tour, also a key part of the network's mobile marketing strategy.
The program, now in its third year, puts staff on the road to about 20 outdoor country music festivals each summer, setting up a display near the entrance to the audience seating area. At each festival, GAC offers fans the chance to record a 'video music request,' which the network plays on its "Top 20 Countdown" program that Sunday. While fans are waiting in line for their chance to make a recording, they can watch previously recorded requests on the 42" LCD monitor, as well as highlights from GAC programs.
Here too the RotoLift case is crucial to the success of the program. "Last year we only had a 26" television," Durand says. "We carried it in a regular road case and the staff had to lift that television onto the stand each time and throw the road case back into the bus." Though the system is the same as that used in the Game On Lounge, here the closed case must be stowed on its size in the bus luggage compartment, rather than being rolled into a semi-trailer. Jelco was able to facilitate that by adding ABS plastic rails to each side of the case which protect it while it's slid in and out.
"We were excited when GAC decided to utilize our case," says McComb. "Based on their needs, the RotoLoft case was a perfect solution, and it has provided them with mobility, protection and ease of use, while still versatile enough to fit within the storage area of the tour bus."
The video requests fit well within the network's marketing strategy, which Duran says has more than doubled the network's subscriber base since 2002-to 53 million homes.
The effort of getting to a festival and standing in line to make a video ensures that those who are recorded will be enthusiastic country music fans, likely to serve as opinion leaders in a social networking campaign. The fact that they may appear on GAC not only ensures that they will watch for themselves on Sunday, but that they will tell their families, friends and co-workers to watch as well.
Thus for every country fan who records a video, five to ten (or more) new viewers will potentially tune in to the network. And like other viral strategies, it builds from there.