Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Winter 2006Kellogg School of Management
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Alumni Profile: Ted Hong '97

Marketing success is in the bag

Fandango executive says a straightforward ad campaign that delights audiences is the ticket to successful marketing in a cluttered environment

By Romi Herron

Ted Hong '97 values the advertising impact that highly recognizable brand spokespersons make — including the animated, or even hand-fabricated, power player.

Hong should know. As the vice president of marketing for Fandango, an online entertainment ticketing and information venture, the Kellogg School alum says the Los Angeles-based company owes its success largely to the refreshing simplicity of its Bag Puppet characters, scene-stealing entertainers and the central promotional figures in Fandango's in-theatre advertising push. They've been around since 2003, three years after the company's inception.

"We are tremendously proud of the recognition that the Bag Puppets bring to Fandango in an increasingly cluttered advertising environment," says Hong. "The creative director of the spots, Len Fink, created the Coca-Cola Polar Bears and he understands the need to entertain movie audiences before you can earn the right to communicate your message to them."

Unlikely silver-screen stars, the puppets have evolved into dozens of festive "personalities" that have entertained audiences for years in Fandango's commercials. The paper performers reinforce Fandango's brand as "a representation of fun and entertainment," explains the VP, who worked with "The Simpsons" cartoon characters while a brand management executive at Nestlé.

Hong became familiar with audiences hungry for out-of-home entertainment during a marketing stint with the National Basketball Association, his first job after graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science and economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

It was a brand-challenged Fandango that welcomed Hong when he arrived three and a half years ago, he recalls. Fresh from leading international marketing efforts for .TV, an Internet infrastructure company, Hong possessed a sophisticated understanding of the consumer, technology and entertainment intersection, and with that knowledge he set out to revitalize Fandango's marketing strategy.

"Since we did not have the words 'movie' or 'tickets' in our name, like our competitors, we had to explain to consumers exactly what we did and [persuade them] to recognize our service as the most convenient way to go to the movies," he notes.

Acknowledging that in 2000, most Internet-based ventures faced "a pretty big risk," Hong says that Fandango's exclusivity agreements with four out of the five largest U.S. theater chains gave them a fairly insulated position.

Fandango performs extensive market research to understand its audience and build its product to meet their needs, Hong says. He believes that his Kellogg School studies prepared him well for this role by building his marketing and general management foundation.

"Fandango sells tickets to more than 14,000 screens and continues to gain traction. We are the one place on the Web where consumers can get all their movie information, including trailers and reviews, as well as that last important step of actually buying a ticket," Hong says. "We had our best month ever in July, when Nielsen/Net Ratings showed a 50 percent increase in unique visitors over the same period a year ago."

Now, Fandango is primed to expand into other entertainment ticketing because the company is not limited by a movie-centric name.

That realization underscores to Hong that business challenges can lead to unanticipated opportunities.

"You just have to be persistent and work hard to get that messaging out there," Hong says. With 80 percent of the United States population living within 20 miles of a Fandango-partnered theater, and fan mail for the puppets flooding the company, the Fandango characters are taking on a life of their own.

"Fandango has been integrated into 'Saturday Night Live,' 'The Late Show with David Letterman' and 'The MTV Movie Awards,' all unsolicited," says the Kellogg grad.

But despite the popularity of the flap-mouthed, button-eyed stars, Hong is carefully pulling the strings to ensure Fandango delivers what audiences want.

"The Bag Puppets bring people to Fandango, but we also have a great product that is tailored to fans of movies and delivers a home run," he says. "There's no magic to what we do, just lots of diligence and good consumer insight coupled with solid execution."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University