Comcast Spotlight’s Perfect Storm

As the economy shrinks and gas prices soar, consumers are looking for ways to conserve and advertisers are looking for ways to cut back their marketing costs -- but not at the expense of connecting with customers. On first blush, this might sound like bad news for media outlets, but Comcast Spotlight Pittsburgh sees an opportunity for the cable company to gain new ad clients and help existing clients geographically target their customer base.

“Previously, we’d have to explain our geographic targeting opportunities,” said Rebecca Lamperski, Tri-State senior director of sales for Comcast Spotlight Pittsburgh. “We’d have to explain what we do and why. But often, they wouldn’t get it or they’d be sure they’d miss sales if they didn’t advertise throughout the whole market.”

But now, she said, things are changing for several reasons. Comcast Spotlight began offering client data and mapping information during presentations showing that the vast majority of clients’ customers lived within a five- to 10-mile radius. And with gas prices skyrocketing, consumers are becoming less likely to drive long distances for deals or sales.

It’s a phenomenon that’s happening in other markets, too. Cox Media marketing director David Roegge said the company’s market shares are higher in zoned markets including Phoenix, Hampton Roads, Vir., and Omaha, Neb.

“Based on increased client interest in those markets, some of our markets that are not zoning are considering this for 2009. While we have found that we can increase our client base through zoning, it does create more complexities and in our business that can sometimes make it more difficult to clear full-market buys,” Roegge said.

But it is a big competitive differentiator for spot cable, noted Kevin Cuddihy, Comcast Spotlight’s senior vice president of ad sales.

“Adtag and Adcopy have been very successful in the automotive, political and retail markets, and with addressable advertising on the horizon, the efficiency we can offer will widen our lead over broadcast, print and other media,” he said.

Lamperski said that within the last three to six months, “the need to prove our geographic targeting theory has lifted. They finally get it and we think gas prices are a big part of driving that understanding. They realize people aren’t going to drive around as much to buy something.”

That means microtargeting, or zone advertising, is becoming more popular. With existing cable clients, cable tends to be the last thing they cut, Lamperski said. “If they have a $5,000 a month budget, they tend to keep that steady. They may be targeting their customers more closely, however. Our opportunity lies with new clients who may be primarily buying broadcast and/or radio avails because they feel they want to reach an entire market.”

Many of those merchants are looking for ways to reduce their budgets or have a better chance of reaching customers, she said.

“Now is a great time to spend money with us in a better, more concise geographic area,” Lamperski said. “The impressions may be down but the reach and frequency will be the same or be up with cable. Even if they cut back their ad budgets, by spending their ad dollars with us, they can maintain their reach and frequency and they won’t be spreading themselves too thin.”

The strategy seems to be working for Comcast Spotlight Pittsburgh. The system is outperforming the market in the region, Lamperski said.

“Clients that were reluctant to microzone are more willing to do so today and those advertisers who didn’t advertise with us are now looking at us in a new light if they are looking to maximize their marketing dollars,” she said. “This is the perfect storm. The economy is not great but I am excited about working for Comcast Spotlight where we have the perfect solution for local businesses during these tough economic times. We can target consumers; cable ratings are up and we have a great story to tell. It’s all working very well for us.”