Cable digs a road to our heart

Rival firms have united to extol the virtues of a misunderstood system. Meg Carter reports

BRITISH cable companies have invested more than pounds 5.5bn over 11 years, building an infrastructure that more than 30 per cent of people can use. Yet for many, cable remains a mystery, which is why the industry has set aside rivalries in a pounds 12m joint marketing campaign.

At its heart lies the creation of a new brand identity for cable: a marque designed by Sampson Tyrrell to act as an emblem for both of the industry's current core businesses - television and telephony, and the media services of the future. "Cable - get connected," is the message, illustrated by two interlocking shapes in green and blue.

Maggie Cox, an account director at Sampson Tyrrell, said: "We were looking for a distinctive marque that would work with a lot of cable operators' own logos. It needed to be a stamp of endorsement rather like the Visa marque, something unifying but which did not fight each company's own logo."

A multimedia campaign created by J Walter Thompson continues the "get connected" theme. Commercials featuring Dawn French, the comic actress, are running on ITV, urging consumers to "get connected" and there are press and poster advertisements describing specific services, including telephony, Internet access and future interactive services.

Through co-operation with all the big cable and satellite programme providers, including Sky, the campaign also features programme highlights. However, the emphasis is on the broader range of benefits cable offers, rather than simply more television. For many companies, telephony represents a larger and faster growing business. Other advertisements emphasise that cable phone calls are cheaper.

Twelve leading cable operators, representing 94 per cent of UK cable TV homes, are backing the initiative, which has been co-ordinated by the Cable Communications Association, the industry's trade body. Participating companies will use the generic branding in local initiatives.

The campaign is mass market. Mike Hayes, the marketing director of CCA, said it was aimed at anyone with a television and a telephone: "With cable now available to one third of all UK TV homes, with a further third due to get cable over the next two years, only now is the time right for national marketing."

He has a point, but it is also true that the minds of cable chiefs have been focused by City concern that cable companies were underperforming. Subscriber growth was slower than hoped and churn levels (the rate at which subscribers fail to renew) are as high as 30 per cent.

The industry's record in marketing is poor. Digging up streets has caused irritation. Cursory handling of public inquiries alienated some. A reliance on door-to-door selling when cable was in place turned off others.

However, the industry has begun to get its sales and marketing act together in the past 18 months. Major operators have invested in telemarketing systems and a number, including TeleWest and Bell Cablemedia, are developing partnerships with television rental chains to gain a high-street presence. Bell is considering selling cable through the Post Office or in department stores and supermarkets.

"An important part of the new campaign is a telephone hotline," Mr Hayes said. One phone call will put consumers in touch with their local operator or tell them whether and when they will be connected.

One of the primary aims of the campaign is to win more customers but improving knowledge and understanding of cable is also important, Mr Hayes added. Research shows many do not understand that a satellite dish is not necessary for cable television. Others are unaware that cable also offers telephone services, while some believe cable phone links cannot dial BT numbers.

The industry cannot rest on its laurels. Within days of the CCA launch, BT unveiled a pounds 40m television offensive with the promise of further discounts on BT calls. BT insists this is not in response to the CCA campaign but a spokesman said: "The aim is to address customers either with cable or those considering cable for whatever reason, to ensure they know our benefits and appreciate our discounts."

BT is improving its Friends & Family package this week, offering up to 10 per cent off calls to a subscriber's five most used private numbers. Combined with the Premier Line scheme, home users can get discounts of up to 25 per cent, says BT. Its campaign is the first time it has directly referred to cable and compared its own services favourably and Mr Hayes welcomed the initiative: "It just goes to show cable is doing what the Government wants, introducing new competition. BT is taking seriously the loss of between 50,000 and 70,000 customers to cable every month. Acknowledging us is one of the best things it can do - giving us credibility in the marketplace."

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