Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Diners at local Chinese restaurants will get a taste of a new form of advertising when they crack open their fortune cookies next month.

Ads promoting a contest for a new reality TV show will be hiding on the backs of the fortunes inside the desserts.

It’s a unique alternative to the bombarding ad messages that consumers face, said Mark Hughes, founder of Buzzmarketing, the 8-month-old marketing company in Media, Pa., that is pushing the medium.

“People are getting a little more daring, and the tide is beginning to turn” away from traditional advertising, Mr. Hughes said.

He has signed Showtime to promote its new series “Dead Like Me” on the back of fortunes in New York later this month. And he is negotiating with entertainment studios MGM and Buena Vista to promote film and DVD releases.

Mr. Hughes has secured exclusive rights with five fortune-cookie manufacturers to advertise in 7 million of their cookies nationwide each week. Those cookies are distributed to about 5,000 Chinese restaurants, or about 25 percent of the Chinese restaurants in the country.

Mr. Hughes has the rights to 6 million cookies per month in the Washington-Baltimore area. The cookies are distributed to about 575 Chinese restaurants locally.

Washington’s first sample will be a promotion for “Hollywood Pitch N’ Win,” a contest that invites reality TV show enthusiasts to write their own ideas for a reality-based show.

The contest is a promotion to get the word out about TVBuzz.com, a new Web site dedicated to reality-based TV shows. The site and the contest will start July Fourth weekend, said Jeff Greenfield, vice president of 1st Approach, TVBuzz.com’s parent company.

The ads will run in several markets, including Washington, during the eight-week contest. The company was planning to use cable TV to advertise but decided against it.

“We were afraid of getting shoved in with all the other messages,” Mr. Greenfield said.

And getting lost in the mix is exactly what companies, particularly those with small marketing budgets, are afraid of.

“The biggest problem is not the capability of delivering a sound message,” Mr. Hughes said. “The problem is capturing people’s attention.”

By comparison, a television ad is among 128 shown during an evening of prime time, according to Buzzmarketing.

Ad agencies are constantly trying to find the best way to get their clients’ messages in front of the right people at the right time and, most importantly, have their message be remembered.

“Whether it’s fortune cookies or product placement, unique memorable moments effectively extend the value of a campaign,” said Cary Hatch — president of MDB Communications Inc., an ad agency in Washington.

The ads will probably get people talking, especially because 96 percent of people read their fortunes and 67 percent of them read them out loud, according to Buzzmarketing research.

“Conventional marketing will deliver conventional results,” Mr. Hughes said. “There are a lot of medium and small brands that don’t have the budgets to break through the clutter.”

The fortune-cookie ads cost $8 to $13 per thousand cookies. In comparison, the cost per thousand for an Internet advertising buy can average about $20, according to Seth Niman, media supervisor at MDB.

Mr. Niman said fortune-cookie advertising, though clever, is not a targeted way to get a message out. Cookies might not get opened or might target the wrong audience.

However, Mr. Hughes says most fortune-cookie readers are between 18 and 34 years old, the group TVBuzz.com is trying to attract.

Mr. Greenfield isn’t stopping the promotions at fortune cookies. He says Buzzmarketing is cooking up another nontraditional advertising method to market the site but will not disclose details. He said “the stunt” will be used to fill in the gaps not reached by Chinese restaurants.

“By August, the majority of the country will know about TVBuzz.com,” Mr. Greenfield said.

The idea for fortune cookie advertising came to Mr. Hughes when he was — what else? — eating Chinese food. At the time, he was a marketer for Half.com, where Internet users can buy and sell products at discounted prices, and was looking for a way to create some buzz about the company.

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