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    Television advertising works. At least for me.

    By Donna Hood Crecca

    Television advertising works. At least for me.

    Recently, as the local morning news blared from the television on the kitchen counter, I perused the fridge and found milk and bread wanting. But I was headed to the pediatrician with a sick child -- a stop at the grocery store or any store was not an option with a feverish baby. Just then, a television commercial for Dairy Barn caught my eye: an image of the store's red barn -- a car at the drive-through driven by a woman much like me with children in car seats. A friendly clerk handed her a bag and her change through the open car window.

    The scene flowed into a shot of fresh, cold milk being poured. I knew where I was stopping on the way home from the doctor's office.

    "That's what our television ads are designed to do --reinforce our brand message and remind people of our offerings when they're not driving," said Hari Singh, president of the East Northport, N.Y.-based company that operates 53 drive-through c-stores on Long Island.

    Worked for me. And apparently it works for Dairy Barn. While radio ads conveying specific product promotions during peak drive times comprise half of the company's advertising budget, television ads target potential customers; adult drivers; when they're not behind the wheel.

    "We spend 40 percent of our ad budget on cable television spots to get our message out when our customer is at home," Singh explained. "TV keeps Dairy Barn top of mind. It lets us demonstrate the convenience of our drive-through service and range of products visually, which goes a long way toward creating an attachment to the brand."

    As more and more convenience store operators shift their marketing strategy toward brand building, television is playing an increasingly important role in the marketing of both small regional chains like Dairy Barn and powerhouse operators. Eighty percent of 7-Eleven's advertising budget will go to television advertising this year, and CITGO reports similar spending.

    "Television touches the major senses and is an easy way to evoke an emotional response, and that's what builds the brand image," said Bob Merz, director of marketing for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. "TV is the fastest way to get a response and drive traffic, and do so in a way that supports the retail brand."

    Newspaper and radio continue to be the preferred advertising mediums for convenience store operators, however, estimates Jeff Lenard, a spokesperson for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

    The most likely deterrent to television advertising is cost. Airtime is the largest expense involved, followed by production costs. For every $8 spent by Dairy Barn on television advertisements, $5 goes for airtime and $3 to production, said Singh. "But advertising is a significant competitive strategy, and if you want to build your brand today, you have to be in the TV game."

    Julie Anderson, manager of marketing communications strategy at CITGO Petroleum Corp., agreed. "We think TV is a powerful tool that is vastly underutilized by convenience store marketers," she said. CITGO is a longtime television advertiser, and works to broaden its marketers' access to quality television advertising.

    Through the CITGO extranet, operators of the 13,500 branded locations -- 75 percent of which have convenience stores -- can review the storyboards and scripts of several 30-second television ads. Each ties to the company's "You Know Me" campaign, and a five-second tag can be incorporated to link the ad to the individual marketer.

    The in-house Creative Group, under the direction of Nancy Werhande, CITGO advertising development and production manager, works with marketers to develop and implement the tag, and prepare the commercial for broadcast.

    "We're able to personalize and localize the ad," said Anderson. "The commercials relate the friendly relationship between the clerk and the customer, conveying that we understand their needs. Personalizing it with a store location tag or particular promotion brings it very close to home."

    CITGO research analysts are also available to assist marketers in reviewing syndicated data to determine the best vehicles and time slots for their ads. "We don't own the locations, but our success is directly tied to theirs," said Anderson. "It's so important that we supply them with the tools and resources to be successful, and television is one of those tools."

    Successful Run
    Television is playing a key role in the successful expansion of the On the Run convenience store format. As Exxon Mobil Corp. increases the chain from 335 locations to 500 by year's end, television ads in select markets will give viewers a virtual store tour, according to Yvonne Erickson, advertising and promotions manager.

    "We're able to relate the look, feel and tone of the On the Run stores through television," she said. "We use the visual and audio elements to highlight store features like the wide aisles and diverse product offerings, the friendly service and welcoming atmosphere. Television helps us make the On the Run branding statement."

    Television commercials have been used since the inception of the On the Run format in 1997. Currently, TV ads are aired in select markets, including Phoenix, Ariz.; Albany and Buffalo, N.Y.; Bangor, Maine; Charlotte, N.C.; and Fort Myers, Orlando and West Palm Beach, Fla. As the chain continues to expand, a hierarchy of factors will be considered to determine where television ads will be run.

    "First, we look at where the stores are located, how many stores are in the market, what's the cost of media in that market and what the competition is doing," said Erickson. "Based on that, we put together an integrated communications plan that's affordable and effective."

    ExxonMobil purchases program-specific spots on major broadcast networks for its On the Run ads. Airtime purchases are made based on an understanding of the programs its customers "make an appointment to watch," explained Erickson. "A lot of television viewing today is by appointment -- the consumer makes a point of watching a particular program at a particular time. So, we make sure we're there when our customer tunes into their favorite shows." Those programs include "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and "The Drew Carey Show," as well as late news broadcasts.

    Achieving the most efficient and effective use of its television dollar is the priority for ExxonMobil in all of its campaigns. To ensure its money is well spent, the company combines its knowledge of customer needs and shopping behaviors with its own business objectives when developing ads. Before even going into production, the advertising concepts are reviewed by consumer focus groups.

    "We do qualitative and quantitative research on the creative concepts, so when we're headed into production, we know we're right on with our message and images," said Erickson. Once the spot airs, ExxonMobil does ongoing quantitative research to ensure the ad's relevance and effectiveness.

    The growth of Speedpass is also being driven by a strong media campaign that includes television advertising. Again, spot ads in select markets are the primary vehicle, but ads are also run on national broadcasts including college football games and other sports programming, such as Fox Major League Baseball.

    "We're airing a heavy branding message and demonstrating what Speedpass can do," said Erickson. "Images include people with children moving quickly through the checkout in-store and customers whisking through the pay-at-the-pump process. Television allows us to show that convenience, which is powerful."

    This fall, ExxonMobil will launch the television component of its new global communications initiative, titled "We're Drivers Too." Images of On the Run store exteriors and interiors are interspersed with customers and products as the voiceover asks questions such as "How do we know for some, coffee is the most important meal of the day?" or is a clean changing room is reason enough to stop?" The final answer, and tagline, is "Because we're drivers too." Five different spots will reflect the diversity of the ExxonMobil work force and customer base worldwide, and will be aired in 25 languages in 100 countries.

    Sponsor in the Spotlight
    To increase the CITGO brand's relevance to target consumer groups, the company is leveraging its sponsorship of NASCAR and more recently, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) in television ads. As many as five or six ads highlighting the petroleum company's sponsorship of the world's largest fishing organization will appear on ESPN2 beginning in early 2002.

    "The ads will link CITGO retail locations with a leisure activity that is not only extraordinarily popular with our high potential consumer segments, but actually ties into their core values and lifestyles," said CITGO's Anderson. In addition to running on ESPN2 during targeted programming, the ads may be rotated into CITGO's existing corporate schedule, which includes spot ads on broadcasts of regional collegiate sporting events. "We'll work to leverage our sponsorships to the general public as well as the consumers who are heavily involved with these organizations," she explained.

    7-Eleven leveraged its relationships with key vendors this summer as it used television to kick off its entry into the combo-meal fray. As part of its "Bigger, Better Summer" initiative, 7-Eleven introduced its "Big Bite Combos" in ads that involved its vendor partners, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Oscar Mayer and Frito-Lay. The ads, which debuted during the ABC broadcast of the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend, represent the first joint promotion to be communicated on such a grand scale.

    "Our vendors appreciate that we're using a medium that they're also working in, and welcomed an opportunity to share the spotlight in this campaign," said 7-Eleven's Merz. The vendor partners also shared the cost. The results were positive. "The Big Bite Combo was one of our most successful offerings this summer. We were very pleased with the response and take rate. Based on that success we intend to continue these kinds of joint initiatives."

    Target Specific
    All of 7-Eleven's television advertising is national, and is split evenly between the major national broadcasters and cable channels. While most retailers specifically target viewers that match the typical c-store shopper profile --males age 18 to 35 -- TH operator of more than 5,700 stores is expanding its reach. MTV and Comedy Central were recently added to its broadcast media portfolio, which already includes Nickelodeon, UPN, ESPN and ESPN2, in addition to the major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

    "The idea is to reach the entry-level consumer," said Merz. "We're running ads that are in keeping with the media vehicle's individual market segment — Mountain Dew Slurpees on Nickelodeon, for example.

    "7-Eleven is a veteran of television advertising," he added, "having made its debut as the first c-store to advertise on television in 1949." Merz bills television as 7-Eleven's primary medium.

    This fall, the company will introduce a freshly ground selection to its Dark Mountain Roast coffee program via a television ad. The two fast-talking, enthusiastic guys who grabbed viewers' attention this summer on behalf of the Big Bite Combo, Mountain Dew Code Red Slurpee and other proprietary products will promote the new coffee in the high-energy, heavily branded commercials.

    "We're looking for consistency in the execution and characters, because it reinforces our brand," Merz said. "Television enables us to launch new products, like the new coffee, or convey strategies behind existing products, such as those that were involved in the combo program. TV builds excitement because it's visual and engaging."

    Making the Commitment
    TV advertising is also a major undertaking that requires strategic planning and commitment. While it's crucial that operators research the channels and time slots when their ads will best reach their target audience, the quality and content of the ad is of paramount concern.

    "It's wonderful if you're addressing your shopper at the right time and on the right program, but you can do more harm than good and do your stores a real disservice if you air a substandard spot," warned 7-Eleven's Merz. "You've got to develop a quality ad in order to protect your brand while you nurture it."

    The advertisements should also track to the broader promotional schedule. Unlike radio ads, which can be updated to reflect the current special on a weekly basis, television ads are much more costly and time consuming to modify post-production.

    Due to union regulations, most television ads today involve actors, rather than actual c-store employees. However, employees -- both current and potential -- should be considered a key audience for any television ad.

    "Television ads are a great way to excite your sales force, operations people and franchisees," said 7-Eleven's Merz. "In some ways, they're closer to our TV ads than we are because they're also our key consumers. A tremendous amount of pride should be derived from what they see on TV."

    Dairy Barn managers do appear in ads for the chain, typically in shots of them serving customers in their cars. Actors do all the scripted material. Singh has found that television ads not only boost morale, but also help legitimize the company. "Deli can't do a television ad, but we can," he said. "The people that work here feel like they're part of something big, and the ads also help with recruiting because we're seen as a serious company."

    By Donna Hood Crecca
    • About Donna Hood Crecca

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