Sony scores with MD campaign

"Where the Music Takes You" ad program a hit, in combination with affordable home deck intro

   As the industry forges through another busy holiday shopping season, Sony continues to find success with its portable audio line. And the company says that what is contributing a great deal to increased sales and interest overall in its product lines--and in the MiniDisc category in particular--is its ongoing, year-long "Where the Music Takes You" national ad campaign.
   Although many Sony products are included in the ads, the clear focus is on the MiniDisc which --despite its troubles catching on in the U.S.--has been continuing to build momentum. Mark Viken, senior vice president of Sony's personal A/V division, reported that the start of the ad campaign, coupled with the introduction of Sony's new MDS-JE510 MD, home deck (at $299.95, its most affordable one to date), led to June sell-through that was "the best we've ever seen."
   And Viken is now predicting that MiniDisc sales this year will be three times greater than they were in 1996. He gives some of the credit to the support a growing number of Sony dealers have given to the category over the past few months in their own advertisements and on their sales floors. While Sony's MiniDisc products were available at about 1,800 outlets last year, the number will exceed 2,500 this year, according to Viken.

The retailers speak

   Retailers, meanwhile , have started to report that Sony's national ad campaign has been helpful. For instance, Philip Schoonover, Best Buy's senior vice president/marketing, comments: "We're very excited about the MiniDisc business." Saying that Sony's national campaign "has worked for us," he notes that MiniDisc sales were ahead of their expectations as of the start of the third quarter. In terms of the retailer's own MD advertising, Schoonover says: "Best Buy is tying into Sony's national campaign and we have been and will continue to advertise Sony MiniDisc in our weekly color inserts."
   The number of MiniDisc products on Best Buy's selling floors has also increased. MD products that Best Buy is currently carrying are: three Sony portable models; two shelf systems--one from Aiwa and the other from Sharp; and two Sony home component pieces.
   An increased MiniDisc presence can also certainly be seen by taking a look at the print advertisements of dealers like Service Merchandise and Nobody beats the Wiz.

Behind the campaign
   The "Where the Music Takes You" campaign, which Sony vice president/personal audio Robert R. Nell calls "one of the most aggressive and largest advertising and promotional campaigns that has been conducted by Sony" in quite a while, was the company's response to 1996's declining portable audio sales nationwide. The goal, he says, was "to re-invigorate the market" by communicating the conveniences of portable audio.
   As part of the campaign, Sony is utilizing TV, print and radio ads, as well as various point-of-purchase promotions to drive home the benefits of the company's personal audio products. Sony has also started its own "Where the Music Takes You" web site.
   Print ads, which have been running since July and will continue through December, can be found in a wide range of publications--over 20 in all, including Rolling Stone, Premiere, Us, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Men's Journal, Details, Audio, Interview, Spin, Raygun, Request, Pulse, George, POV, Swing, Verge, Fitness, Outside, Runner's World, Snow Country and, to reach out to female consumers, Sony is advertising in Elle and Mademoiselle for the first time.
   Nell notes that "50 percent of our print advertising is in MiniDisc." The company's MD print ad concentrates on the format's chief features and benefits. It reads: The horse, the automobile. The typewriter, the computer. The cassette tape, the Digital Recordable MiniDisc. The ability to record music and play it back anywhere--what you've always loved about tape. Digital sound and instant access to any song--what you love about CDs. All in one 2.5" MiniDisc. Record or mix up to 74 minutes from your CDs on one MiniDisc. Then play it back on your deck or portable player. Now that's progress."
   The MiniDisc portion of Sony's "Where the Music Takes You" campaign, which utilizes the catch phrase "It's Hip To Be Square," includes three separate areas: new print advertisements; a "Repeat" radio spot; and a "Road Mix" television spot.
   Meanwhile, the 30-second radio spot lets listeners know that MiniDisc is "The Digital Way To Record Your Music." It has been airing since June on Network Radio, and will be running through December.
   And the 30-second TV commercial started running in May on channels including MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central. It, too, will be airing through December.
   The MiniDisc also plays a role in another 30-second TV spot that is part of the overall "Where the Music Takes You" campaign: "Freedom," which stresses the convenience which portable audio (including MiniDisc, Walkman, Discman and headphones) provides.
   In the overall campaign there are also separate radio ads for Sony's Noise Canceling Headphones "SFX" and Discman with ESP "Park," as well as individualized print ads concentrating on the Walkman, Discman and headphones.
   Another important aspect of the overall national campaign, notes Nell, is that it is encouraging customers to not only go to the store to buy Sony portable audio products, but also to buy a step-up model in the process. To help accomplish this, Sony is offering customers a gift of either a T-shirt or a CD wallet when they buy one of 60 different step-models. Nell adds that "our retailers have embraced" this part of the campaign--as they have the other parts of the campaign-- "wholeheartedly," with dealers including Service Merchandise even playing up Sony portable audio step-up models on the front page of their ad circulars, along with the Sony "Where the Music Takes You" logo and information about the free T-shirt or CD carrying case offer.

What's next

   "We think we've accomplished a lot this year," observes Viken about how Sony has gotten out the message about the MiniDisc format. Although he admits that the format got off to "a slow start" in the U.S. because of consumer confusion and he "wouldn't call it a blistering success yet, "we think we're kind of just turning a corner here." Consumers, he thinks,are starting to realize that the MiniDisc is "a great complement for CDs" and it's not a replacement for CDs, but rather a replacement for cassettes.
   Viken is also optimistic about the growing number of other manufacturers releasing MiniDisc products here in the U.S., although he hopes "they'll be a little more aggressive" in how they push their MD products. --J.B.

AudioVideo International