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Marianne Paskowski

Local Cable TV Spots Work for Restaurants

October 22, 2008 10:45 AM

An article in today’s New York Times about how restaurants across the nation are hurting during the ongoing economic meltdown failed to address how their owners are tweaking their media plans to help manage the pain.

A solution that might help to stem the damage is hyper-local ad spots.

Elsewhere I read that broadcast national spot TV sales are expected to drop a whopping 17%.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Comcast-land, where I live. The MSO appears to be thriving with its Comcast Local Spot program, which runs scads of ads from local restaurants.

Judging from mere anecdotal evidence, local cable ads seem to really work. We went out to a Thai restaurant for dinner last night, and it was hurting, even though the food is excellent, the ambiance and service are great, in essence making it a great value experience.

By contrast, a nearby restaurant that floods local cable with ads had a jammed parking lot. The restaurant is expensive, the service is abysmal and the ambiance totally blows.

But the Thai restaurant doesn’t advertise on local cable while its next-door neighbor—the crummy, expensive restaurant—runs a heavy ad schedule on Comcast’s Local Spot program.

Have you witnessed that correlation in your neck of the woods? Check it out and share. I think I’m onto something here.


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Comments (20)

Andy S.:

I live in a Comcast neighborhood as well, and I have noticed a profusion of new ads for local businesses. Not so much restaurants, but furniture stores, car dealers and the like. I don't have any anecdotal evidence to suggest that those businesses are gaining a competitive advantage. One thing I do wonder about: which ads are these new hyper-local spots replacing? They're not allowed to cover over national spots, are they?

Marianne Paskowski:

What an interesting question you raise. I don't know the answer but I have a couple of pals I'll call who used to work at Comcast Spot.

One thing I do know is that some cable ops, don't use the local avails they get from cable nets, so God only knows what happens with that ad avail pool.
Anyone have any answers out there, m?

David Cohen:

Cablevision in Hoboken has been carrying ads for the same two restaurants -- a diner and a Spanish place, neither of which is in Hoboken, but within minutes -- since I moved here eight years ago. I don't know how much it's helped them, but more places should think about it. And the two restaurants I mentioned might want to consider updating their ads. They barely have any color left!

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi David,
Maybe some people just don't like Thai food.

But this competitive lobster place on Cape Cod is not open year long, so maybe the local cable ad buy is it's just trying meet its nut by advertising heavily. But the tourists are gone.

Whatever, the more important question, is what is happening with local cable avails?

I don't know. Thank God my sources are former Comcast Spotlight employees, the official name of the MSO's hyper-local ad selling outfit.Guess there's a reason why they are former.

Local cable spot buys have always been a nightmare for media buyers to execute. Andy raised an interesting question about the rules of engagement.

What happens with local cable avails that don't sell. I don't know. Yet.


Yo, Blondie --

It pays to advertise. What more can you say? If advertising didn't pay, you'd pay megabucks for a decent publication, TV would look like a blend of BBC snooker matches and old-style Soviet TV favorites, and the Web would look exclusively like Home Shopping Network.

Cruisin not bruisin

Marianne Paskowski:

So it seems, at least from this perch. Good to hear from you, thanks for a moment of levity, m

Jeff Mulligan:


Restaurants are one of the most advertising-responsive categories. Snap decisions about relatively low-financial-risk decisions about where to dine are very responsive to suggestion: a compelling tale of popularity matched by mouth-watering photography (still hard to achieve in standard TV resolution) draws traffic. The trick is frequency. Most restauranteurs are unwilling to spend the money it takes to build enough awareness; they're still chefs. Luckily, local cable gives them the chance to strut their stuff.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jeff,

Well frequency seems to be the trick with the popularity of this pathetic lobster restaurant.

But the timing is odd. Tourists are gone, and those of us who live here, I guess are apparently lured by offers not offered in their spots. Checked it out with a local who said you get a free desert. Fine, whatever, m


here in connecticut, the best examples i've seen utilizing local cable and even local broadcast ads, are not local restaurants, but a few advertisers in highly beaten down industries. one is a family-owned dodge dealership in central ct, whi advertises incessantly with every irritating family member involved, pushing their 'no money down' plan. it must work because they have just opened another dealership in milford, ct when car dealers are closing daily. the other would be bob kauffman of bob's disount furniture who has grown from a few stores in ct ten years ago to forty plus stores throughout new england and the new york metro area. he has employed the same 'folksy' approach with lots of face time branding for himself and his cost saving 'comparable' products and made millions.

Marianne Paskowski:

Yikes, I see those same Bob's discount furniture ads here on Cape Cod, and trust me, it's a long drive over the bridge to get there.

I am stunned about the car dealership ads you're seeing on local cable.

They are shut out of the lending window. They are not taking SUV's as trade ins, and the leasing program seems to be on treacherous terrain. And who in the hell is buying a car right now>

I'm really beginning to wonder if local cable operators are discounting the ad avails heavily, or just giving it away to fill up the air time, via make goods.

I have no idea, and I don't think we'll ever know, just like the so-called transparency on Wall Street.

Thanks for jumping in, m


I have found that most media buyers don't know any better and just give the full market rating to the program they are buying. First, they don't realize that the cable provider has a 59% market share (in my market). Then, (even though it is difficult to do), they don't break down the small audience of the neighborhood or interconnect they are buying. Yes, it can be an efficient way to advertise and a good way to geo-target, but it needs to be able to bought and measured easier.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Joe,
You raise a good point, local cable is still a pain in the neck to buy, something I've been writing about all of my life.

Comcast, I think, is working hard to make it an easier buy.



Those local ads are inserted "on top of" commercials on the national (like CNN) or regional (like NESN) network with the network's permission. They actually tell cable operators when those windows are available, and the network usually runs its own promos or 60-second infomercial-style commercials during the break. That's why you'll sometimes see "half" of a commercial before or after a local ad. But cable companies rarely "give back" those slots, instead inserting promotional commercials for their own products (high-speed internet service, digital cable, etc.).

Those car dealers are doing everything they can to get people in the door, and local TV ads work - for car dealers, restaurants, any business that buys it properly.

Marianne Paskowski:


Thanks for sharing your expertise. I do remember a time when cable networks were in contract renewal with operaters for carriage renewal, they would throw in ad avails to soften the blow of a rate hike, most notably ESPN. MSO's were not happy and said they didn't want the local avails.

Just an aside, m

Mike :

Interesting article and even more interesting feedback. Local cable is nothing different than, broadcast TV, radio, or print. It is an affordable and very solid local media option. The auto clients, have done very well with local cable it delivers the message in their back yard...frequently and at a reasonable cost.
Bob's Discount furniture has also used the medium to brand his name and low cost strategy in the markets he's in again with frequency...it's what sell's.

For those "buyers" who find the medium hard to buy...well it's not different than getting 3 broadcast avails and 4 radio proposals...once you've gotten past the idea that the "out of touch with reality ratings system" is what's making it difficult to buy it will get easier. What do you watch? What do your friends and family watch...and in this multi-channel environment that subscribers pay many $$$ to get each month...it's a very easy to buy...when you realize they are not paying all that money to watch one or two channels...that's why local cable works so well...those consumers are watching and responding!

A local cable seller.

Marianne Paskowski:


Do you think the big media buying firms steer their clients away from local cable because the agencies don't make much on fees?

I've heard the allegation, but have never been able to nail it down.

Thanks for your post, m

Mike :


I am not sure what you might be referring to, we treat all clients the same...if you are suggesting that we do not commission agencies that would be incorrect. National agencies that buy spot cable are commissioned in the same way from cable media that our "over the air" broadcast counterparts commission those sales. In fact the national agencies have been moving more and more of thier client's budgets to cable because we can target and produce frequency efficiencies just now being recognized...we are HOT! It's incredible to me how much misinformation there is out there about how local cable works after having been in this business now for well over 20+ years after coming over from broadcast radio and TV of 18 years prior.

Marianne Paskowski:

There's a notion out there that the commissions are smaller because the buys are cheaper on local cable.

Thanks for correcting some of the misinformation still out there about how local cable ad spending really works.

I'm a fan, being new to this area I love all local ads to familiarize myself with my new community. Could kill my husband when he switches channels to avoid the local ads!


Great post. Interesting discussion. Does seem pretty logical that the closest things to word-of-mouth would be the most effective way to message about a local restaurant. The more local you get, the closer you are to the feeling of a personal recommendation.

Marianne Paskowski:

Interesting response, but as it happens out here on Cape Cod, the worst restaurants seem to advertise the most on local cable spot.

For whatever reason, advertising does works. Those who advertise are crowded, and better joints like the Thai joint I mentioned probably won't be around for long.

I found a new media outlet for Cape Cod restaurants online, with visitor input, pretty good, not perfect.

Thanks for your post, chow hound, m

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