Scripps Takes U.S. Cellular Customers on the Road

Video series is key to telco’s first national campaign
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Regional phone company U.S. Cellular is launching its first national ad campaign with video content from Scripps Networks.

U.S. Cellular wants customers and potential customers in the 23 states in which it does business to understand that its mobile phone and data services work everywhere in the U.S., and for consumers outside its footprint to become familiar with the brand in case they move into its service area.

Scripps has created a five-episode digital video series called Big Country that shows U.S. Cellular customers who’ve never travelled far from home visiting far-flung destinations accompanied by Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on Travel Channel.

The three to six minute long videos will run online using Scripps',, and other websites. Cut down versions will also appear on TV in Travel Channel and Food Network shows and on VOD. The campaign encourages U.S. Cellular subscribers to enter a content to win a trip, which will be shot and become the fifth and final installment in the campaign.

The campaign starts July 20 and is scheduled to run for 12 weeks and cost an estimated $4-5 million. U.S. Cellular declined to comment on how much it is spending.

For Scripps, the campaign is a demonstration that it can create the kind of multiplatform, content-based campaigns more marketers are seeking.

“One of the things we are focused on is working to create video content that can travel easily across TV and digital,” said John Dailey, senior VP, ad sales at Scripps Networks. “This is really the first big partnership we’ve been able to put together with a new advertiser. We regard this as a step forward in our ability to keep delivering content and good content to our audience as well as partnerships to our advertisers.”

Dailey says the video was shot by the digital content creation team at uLive. The first four episodes chronicle U.S. Cellular customers’ trips to New York City, Bend, Oregon; Portland, Maine; and San Francisco. The U.S. Cellular customers were nominated by friends and family via message boards and social posts.

The last episode will show the content winner’s excursion.

Each episode was cut down into three 60-second spots for TV. The three cut downs will appear in consecutive commercial breaks in shows on the Scripps cable networks, telling the story of the visits in shortened form.

Beyond national reach, Scripps offers U.S. Cellular a high-income audience and relatively tech-savvy viewers. Travel Channel was a natural for the campaign, but Food Network works as well because discovering restaurants and new things to eat is a big part of the adventure.

The videos show how the customers can use U.S. Cellular’s capabilities away from their home towns. They text, share photos, make calls, use social media and video chat. “The point is that as you travel, U.S. Cellular adds to the experience,” Dailey said.

Cristel Turner, senior director, brand development and advertising at U.S. Cellular, says the company’s image as a regional company hurts at a time when people are more mobile and data is the new currency. The company also wanted consumers outside the U.S. Cellular footprint to be familiar with the brand, because according to Census data, 1 to 2 million people came into the market over a six year period. “It’s a real business inhibitor if people are not even aware of our brand,” she said.

The company decided with media agency Starcom that the best way to communicate its national capabilities was with a national content campaign. “We didn’t want to do a commercial: ‘hey we really are national.’ No one wants to hear that,” Turner said.

U.S. Cellular last year did casting calls with ABC’s Shark Tank in three markets, but that wasn’t really a national campaign.

Turner said Scripps was a good fit for the new campaign because it is in the business of media, but also moving into the content development space. Using Zimmern was an important part of personalizing the campaign, Turner said. “It’s just a good human feeling to take our customers into this life-changing experience. To bring some joy to people’s lives,” she said. “Customer service and appreciation is a big part of the value system at this company.”