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Feb 16, 2004
Case Study

HBO Rich Media Email Campaign

SUMMARY: Are you looking for inspiration for an email campaign? This short Case Study includes data on clicks and "tell-a-friend" forwards comparing a rich media send with a static HTML send.

HBO's email campaign won a major national award -- see why:

Last spring HBO's documentary division decided to run real-world screenings of films in theatres in New York and San Francisco.

They set the ticket price at $5 - a token amount to hopefully cover some costs. (As you probably know, theatre owners make most of their profits in refreshments.) So, there wasn't a big budget for marketing the events. And, let's face it, documentary film fans are a special breed. Mass media ad buys wouldn't be terribly effective for the cost.

Luckily HBO's got an in-house list of consumers that can be segmented by zip code and entertainment interest. The network just needed a high-impact email to move those warm bodies into theatre seats.


Inspired by streamed film clip success of everyone from BMW to Miramax, HBO definitely wanted to send a rich media email. However not everyone, especially recipients using Web-based viewers such as AOL, MSN, Hotmail, Excite, and Yahoo, can view rich media emails.

Therefore, the network asked their agency to create three creatives to be contained in one message. Recipients who were able to see rich media, would see that. Others would see a static HTML message, and the third group would see a text-only message.

(Note: Including a text-only version is critical if you have a message that's entertaining enough to be forwarded virally, because many Web-based email systems only forward the text- version - often unbeknownst to the individual sender.)

The creative in all three cases was designed to look great in the "preview pane" so that recipients surfing through a pile of mail would be more tempted to open the message up all the way, or at least scroll down in preview to learn more about it. So, the offer was emblazoned high up.

Each list - San Francisco and New York - received a single email specific to their location.


Both shows sold out, and the campaign won the AD:TECH award for Best Email Campaign of 2003.

The campaign had an overall open rate of 85% (proving the power of the HBO name to its own list) and a clickthrough rate on the purchase tickets link of 27% of total emails sent.

However, reports segmenting results by domain revealed consumers who could presumably see the bells-and-whistles version were far more likely to take action on the email -- of the 27% who clicked on the ticket link, only 27.6% came from AOL, MSN, Hotmail, Excite, or Yahoo, although these domains were a great majority of the lists.

Most consumers ignore "forward to a friend" buttons in favor of using their email system, so to gauge how viral campaign was, marketers compared the ticket click names to the original HBO list. About 12% of these clicks were from names not on the list.

HBO did measure the Forward to a Friend utility to learn what the *type* of user tends to forward. In this case, of those who forwarded the email, only 31.8% were from the Web-based domains of AOL, MSN, Hotmail, Excite, and Yahoo.

The bulk of forwards, 68.2%, came from non-Web-based email clients that could presumably see full rich media experience. So, the rich media gee whiz factor definitely affected viralness.
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