Campaign of Distinction: ‘American Idol’ Ringtones

Jun 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Natalie Finn

Special to TelevisionWeek

On a Tuesday night during the fifth season of Fox’s “American Idol,” Taylor Hicks sang Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” On Wednesday, a snippet of his performance was ready to download as a ringtone.

Combining two things that millions of people really love these days-“American Idol” and cellphones-Fox Mobile Entertainment and Cingular Wireless created an unprecedented bit of synergy that strengthened both brands and is being honored with a Campaign of Distinction award from Promax&BDA and TelevisionWeek.

While viewer interaction has always been a part of the “Idol” experience since its inception in 2002, it was time to kick it up a notch.

“The natural next step was to take a live TV event and make a piece of that available to consumers the next day,” said Miriam Holzman, executive director of digital content for Fox Mobile Entertainment. Ms. Holzman and Cingular’s chief marketing officer, Mark Lefar, helmed the teams who made this pioneering product available, sitting in on weekly-and at times, daily-conference calls involving up to 30 people.

On March 21, the two companies launched “American Idol” ringtones, with host Ryan Seacrest doing two on-camera demos to teach viewers how to download their favorite “Idol” performances-less than 24 hours after the songs had been sung-onto their Cingular phones.

After the performances, it was up to the Cingular team to get that music up on its storefront between 10 a.m. and noon the next day.

“Our piece of it was to make available and [legally] clear the ringtones [for distribution],” Ms. Holzman said. “[Mr. Lefar’s] team worked tirelessly overnight to make it available for sale the next day. We couldn’t have done it without their flexibility and hard work.”

In addition to the in-show demos, a series of TV ads, billboards and Internet advertising were pressed into service to get the message across. Cingular also carried “Idol” info on its marketing Web site, Cingularsource.com.

More than 100 tones featuring the show’s top 12 contestants and some of the better early-round performances were made available starting in week 11 and, the week before the May 24 finale, they were among Cingular’s top sellers. And not only did the “Idol” exposure drive sales and create a new way to market ringtones, it also created new demand for music that otherwise may not have had a significant following. Some ringtones featuring an “Idol” contestant’s cover of a song moved more downloads than did the original artist’s version.

“Any show that’s going to allow for a viewer to have an impact on the result of the show is a great opportunity for a wireless carrier to integrate,” said David Garver, Cingular’s executive director of marketing, adding that the scale and scope of that show are what makes the venture unique. “There’s not any other show out there that provides you with the same reach and breadth of demographics,” he said.

The chance for fans to get an extra dose of their favorite performers helped send viewer participation through the roof. Cingular logged at least 64.5 million text messages this season, up from 41.5 million in 2005. That number includes votes, trivia, sweepstakes entries and text chats with “Idol” contestants.

“We work collaboratively to see how we can take the “American Idol” brand and make it available to Cingular customers in new and different ways every year and leverage and highlight their technologies,” Ms. Holzman said. “Next year we hope to bring even more innovative and exciting things.”

Marc Lefar

Title: Chief marketing

officer, Cingular Wireless

How long in current position: Three years

Year of birth: 1963

Place of birth: New Jersey

Who knew? He’s a leader with all the right moves. Mr. Lefar met his wife, Cathy, while he was coaching the women’s softball team at Procter & Gamble, where he began his career in finance and brand management.

Miriam Holzman

Title: Executive director, digital content, Fox Mobile Entertainment

How long in current position: One year

Year of birth: 1970

Place of birth: Phoenix

Who knew? Her last vacation was to Thailand and Cambodia: “My husband introduced me to the wonders of Third World travel.”