Milking The Block NZ: how sponsors took the ball and ran with it

The queues for the open homes for TV3’s The Block NZ were quite literally around the block. Thousands of people turned up on the first Saturday alone. Many had traveled for hours for a nosy around the four newly renovated houses, huddled together in the swanky Auckland suburb of Takapuna. Perhaps they might even get a glimpse of New Zealand’s newest celebrities: The Block NZ contestants, Sarah and Richard, Rachel and Tyson, Ginny and Rhys and, eventual winners, brother and sister marketing duo, Ben and Libby.

Melanie Reece, general manager of integration at TV3’s owner MediaWorks, calls the open days a highlight of her career. “The crowd, the excitement; it was amazing.”

The show surpassed all expectations, says Reece. “From a viewer engagement point of view, from a ratings perspective, from a TV3 marketing perspective, it’s over achieved. It launched as our No. 1 show of the year and it just built from there.”

The figures speak for themselves, with an average nightly ratings share of more than 30 percent of the all-important 25 to 54 year-old market, translating to a cumulative total of more than two million people who tuned in to watch the ten-week reality renovation series.

For main sponsors, Bunnings WarehouseKiwibankMazda and BP’s Wild Bean Cafe the results couldn’t have been better. “The buzz around the show has been amazing,” says Regan Savage, Kiwibank’s head of brand and communications.

Kiwibank’s RenoMate online tool became a regular feature on the show as contestants grappled with their budgets. 

Kiwibank got involved because it wanted something that could showcase the breadth of its products and services and, especially, its innovative suite of online tools. The timing was great too because it fit with Kiwibank’s ten year, coming-of-age anniversary and brand refresh, says Savage. “You can’t make a TV ad for everything, so showing our products and services completely integrated in a really natural way was a real highlight from a marketing perspective.”

The Block NZ’s most popular couple Rachel and Tyson, who suffered throughout the show from budgeting issues, were regular users of Kiwibank’s specially designed, online budgeting tool, RenoMate. “That was particularly exciting to us, to see our tools come to life like that,” says Savage.

The show gave Mazda the opportunity to demonstrate the BT-50 being used the way its creators intended.

Other sponsors were equally pleased with the way their products were catered for in the programme. Mazda’s new ute, the BT 50 ferried the contestants between Bunnings and their do-ups on The Block NZ, often packed high with paving stones, Dulux paint and even the odd tree. “It was just a great way for us to show a representative sample of New Zealand’s automotive population using these vehicles in the environment for which they were designed and manufactured,” says Glenn Harris, Mazda New Zealand’s general manager, vehicle sales and marketing.

Raewynne Lory, BP New Zealand’s retail marketing manager, says both MediaWorks and the show’s producers Eyeworks Television, encouraged all the sponsors to let their imaginations run wild.

When Lory and BP’s marketing director Nicki Nicol suggested they bring in their Wild Bean Cafe mobile marketing unit, The Bean Machine, it was embraced so whole heartedly it seemed to live on the show, providing endless cups of branded The Block NZ Wild Bean Cafe coffees and specially-designed Lamb Block pies to an army of tradies and some very tired looking contestants.

The Wild Bean Cafe’s coffee and specially created Lamb Block Pies fueled the army of tradies and contestants.

The Block pie is now one of Wild Bean Cafe’s top selling pies. “Being the largest retailer of pies in New Zealand, this is a phenomenal result,” says Nicol.

Wild Bean Cafe also wrapped an intensive, all-encompassing marketing programme around its sponsorship, including TVCs featuring their own, designated contestant couple – Rachel and Tyson in Wild Bean Cafe’s case – plus print, radio, digital, point-of-sale and internal communications.

Surpassing expectations 

The results surpassed all the sponsors’ expectations and are still being felt weeks after the show ended.

“It’s been really very successful for us,” says Kiwibank’s Regan Savage. “It’s exceeded our targets in terms of signing up main bank customers and pushed us up higher than expected across most measures we track.”

One of the best things about the show was how Kiwibank’s staff embraced it, re-invigorating sales efforts and giving them something different to talk about with customers, he says.

Viewers also visited Kiwibank’s Facebook page to put their renovation questions to a specially-put-together Kiwbank panel of experts, including fellow sponsor Dulux, who together manned the digital space for an hour after each show had aired.

Reece says the sponsors’ marketing initiatives around The Block NZ were beyond the producer’s and the network’s wildest dreams.

Commitment and preparing for the unexpected

To get the most out of something like The Block NZ you have to grasp every marketing avenue you can think of, says Savage.

“It’s been mammoth by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a high profile sponsorship so you need to put a lot of resources behind it from a creative, media and people perspective. You need to think through each customer journey, across every channel at a really detailed level from awareness to fulfillment, across every media platform and through every single media touchpoint where a customer can come through to the bank and deal with a staff member. That’s not a massively sexy aspect to it, but it’s fundamental if you want to maximize the potential.”

Mazda’s Glenn Harris agrees the whole thing’s been huge, but more than worthwhile. “You can’t do something like this without the power of television and the independence a show like this gives you. If you try to do this yourself… it lacks credibility,” which is why the sponsorship can’t be too overt, he says. “To actually have this [promotional opportunity]at arm’s length like this, provides a very powerful advocacy profile.”

But you have to be far more flexible or nimble with something like The Block NZ than you would with more traditional marketing campaigns, says Lory. “It’s just the dynamic nature of reality TV. Yes, you can be planned and organised, but you also have to accept that a lot of things just happen; and happen at the last minute. There are a lot of challenges dealing with that.”

Reece says marketers have to be brave; to let go and trust the producers and the networks to do right by their brands and then the results, like with The Block NZ, can be spectacular. All agree, however, that no other media platform could generate the same results.

“It has to be on television, because you just end up with the greatest noise around what you’re trying to achieve,” says Lory.

“It’s all been executed really, really well. But it’s TV that creates the mass reach, that makes the show a part of people’s lives. Only then do people go to other media to find out more,” says Savage. “It’s hard work for people to click on a banner for something they’ve never heard of. But if it’s something they are excited about, involved in and their friends are talking about, then you are pushing on an open door.”

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