Kingstar launches L49 digital division

Direct response shop that built its name on TV expands its media outlook

Toronto-based direct response media agency Kingstar Media has launched a new digital unit called L49 Digital in response to rising client demand for 360-degree marketing solutions.

Kristy Pinand

Kristy Pinand

The company is also adding a new member to its senior leadership team. Kristy Pinand has joined Kingstar as vice-president of new business development after spending 15 years with the U.S. direct response agency Concept TV, where she served as vice-president of sales and marketing.

Based in New Jersey, Pinand is overseeing new business development for both Kingstar Media and the new L49 Digital division. She currently serves on the Electronic Retailing Association’s Industry Women’s Council as well as the Direct Response Marketing Alliance’s membership committee.

“She’s got a great reputation,” Kingstar Media president and CEO Ed Crain told Marketing. “We think alike, and we have the same goal to expand the business.”

L49 Digital (its name refers to the 49th parallel that largely divides the U.S. and Canada) focuses on mobile-first campaign strategies that recognize the platform’s growing popularity (a recent report from Zenith Media said that mobile will account for 75% of all internet use by 2017). Its expertise includes website creation, SEM, web development, paid social, programmatic retargeting and other “in-demand” lead generation tactics aimed at bolstering the performance of direct response campaigns and more effectively tracking campaign activity.

Crain said that the direct response industry continues to evolve beyond the “yell and sell” infomercials traditionally relegated to less-than-prime-time TV, with digital playing an increasingly important role in customer conversion.

“It’s learning about your client service and mirroring that in the digital world, giving them access to the direct response techniques that we know have worked for TV,” said Crain of L49 Digital.

Crain is a veteran of the direct-response space, having worked on infomercials for products such as the Gazelle Glider and the NutriBullet. One of his earliest projects was for the Guthy-Renker exercise machine the Power Rider, featuring ads with former NFL quarterback and prolific infomercial spokesman Fran Tarkenton that generated $150 million in sales. “I shot that infomercial at a mall north of Toronto for $60,000,” said Crain. “Those days were the genesis of the business.”

While Kingstar still has what Crain called a “healthy business” based on traditional direct-response TV commercials, the product assortment has changed; newer clients such as Trivago, Match.com and Wayfair are more reliant on 30-second drive-to-web infomercials than long-form ads.

L49 has been in beta for approximately eight months, with Kingstar already negotiating media placement opportunities on digital platforms owned by long-time broadcast partners such as Bell Media.

However, Crain said that TV will remain a crucial component in the DR space for the foreseeable future. While acknowledging that the 30-minute infomercial business is “flattening out,” particularly as younger consumers spend less time with traditional media, Crain said he is currently involved in a pair of long-form infomercials for products in the health and wellness category.

“I thought that the half-hour infomercial business would be a thing of the past five years ago, but a good half-hour show can still drive a lot of awareness,” he said. “There are still people channel-surfing and a plethora of stations, so there are still late-night, early-morning and daytime watchers of infomercials. It gives marketers an opportunity to tell a story.”

Crain said that Kingstar’s role, like that of its media agency counterparts, has evolved into helping clients determine the most appropriate media mix. “In the good old days I knew that I could do an infomercial and TV would drive 98% of [a client’s] traffic,” said Crain. “Now it’s buying Facebook or other internet-based properties and blending in PR so you can find opportunities for particular demographics.”

He said that TV remains unmatched in its ability to create the emotional engagement, something that clients have discovered as they’ve attempted to move their business online.

“A lot of clients and agencies piled their money into digital in the past three to five years, but they’ve found in the last couple of years that a lot of that traffic is not really meaningful,” Crain added.

“We had some people who shut down TV completely and put all their money into digital, but then came running saying ‘Get us back on television because our traffic is dying.’”

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