Ads Shouldn’t Throw Stones

Los Angeles— As the video market accelerates to hyper-competitive speed, marketing executives advise that incumbent cable providers should resist the impulse to go negative in promotional advertising.

Consumers don’t respond well to negative messages, said Mary Roberts, senior vice president, Bigelow Advertising, during a Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing panel here on May 3.

Her firm came to that conclusion after it screened attack ads created for Cincinnati Bell to counter Time Warner Cable’s move into the telephone market for a focus group. Consumers recalled the attack ads, but dismissed the message as “throwing stones,” she said.


The better strategy, the research showed, is to align one’s company with the consumer. Incumbent cable providers should stress what they offer consumers, she added, in messages that show people interacting with cable company-delivered products, with a message that is humorous.

Also bad form: mentioning the competitor by name. The consumer may remember the other brand, Roberts said. Highlight pricing and savings and avoid lengthy legal disclaimers. Roberts said that some customers viewing ads with such messages zero in on them, searching for “gotchas.”

“Customers want straightforward, friendly messages,” she said.

Roberts’ message was delivered during a teleseminar presented to members of the on May 3. It was viewed by 49 chapters, including a group in Brazil, according to CTAM.

Incumbent cable operators have done a good job satisfying the majority of customers, said Kathryn Alexander, vice president, Creative & Response Research Services. But of those consumers who disconnect for competitors, 40% felt they were pushed into the change by their current provider, research shows. Poor customer service, including unresolved service issues and failure to answer the phone, are the top factors that push customers away, followed by the perception of a poor price/value relationship, rate increases, “monopolistic attitudes,” arrogance and negative media coverage, according to Alexander.

Consumers that disconnect because they feel “pulled” to a new technology respond to a higher price-value relationship than they perceive from their current provider. Two-thirds of disconnects cited that as their reason for leaving cable, she noted.

Customers also quit cable out of curiosity about a new technology, especially one perceived to be high-tech.

But those who newly adopt cable and its new products are usually “ecstatic,” she added. “You need to turn them into evangelists,” she advised. The old wisdom used to state that one happy customer will tell eight people, but with the Internet, one happy customer can tell thousands.


“Maximize your loyalists,” she said. Companies also need to find touch points beyond that first and sometimes only face-to-face meeting: the install.

Incumbent operators need to shore up their brand identities and settle on beneficial packaging before telephone competitors hit town with the kind of splash Verizon Communications Inc. has made in Keller, Texas. Mark Adams, director of product management for Charter Communications Inc.’s southeast division, said Verizon blanketed the Texas town with logoed beer glasses in bars, Chinese food take-out containers and dry-cleaning bags. The telephone company also sent prospective customers a free day-planner premium to get them to consider switching to Verizon video, he said.

Charter is “pretty aggressive getting people to bundle up” in Keller, offering a $99 bundle now that the operator has launched phone service. Local ads note that represents a $600 annual savings, with the price locked in for a year. He said the operator has created a “migration calendar,” tracking when the offer expires for consumers. At that time Charter tries to put consumers in different packages and takes the opportunity to urge consumers to continue to “bundle up,” he said. But if consumers balk at their new price, “We’re prepared to offer safety nets,” he said, without detailing that strategy.