The ads for the housing development that will become Baltimore County's biggest are unusual -- new home ads usually aren't done in color, and just about never feature cartoons.
But there's something even more extraordinary about the ads for Owings Mills New Town, where a joint venture of local developers and a unit of the nation's biggest savings and loan plan to see 5,500 homes built over the next decade. They're on television.
Print and radio -- not television -- are the most common media buys for new-home builders in the Baltimore market. Major builders such as Ryland Homes will sometimes promote their building styles on television, and smaller builders might include ads for their communities in the Sunday morning advertising shows sponsored by real estate brokerage firms. But it's very unusual to see stand-alone TV ads for specific new-home developments.
It's uncommon because television time is expensive, said Jim Griffin, a Columbia-based vice president of Ahmanson Developments Inc. His firm is unit of H. F. Ahmanson & Co. of Los Angeles, the lead developer of the New Town project. In highly populated markets such as Los Angeles, television time would be too expensive, he said. In sprawling multimarkets like South Florida, developers would have to buy time with several media markets to reach all potential buyers.
"In Baltimore, we could pay media rates that just reach metropolitan Baltimore," Mr. Griffin said. "Even if we had to be in Washington, we just couldn't have afforded it."
Owings Mills New Town is so big and unusual it needs to break out of traditional marketing molds, officials and advertising consultants for Ahmanson Developments say.
"We're trying to position it as a supermarket of housing lifestyles," Mr. Griffin said.
The whole point of New Town is to offer a variety of housing types, from condominium flats to luxury single-family homes, built by a largenumber of builders. Ahmanson's role as developer will be to choose the builders and to install common areas such as roads and recreational facilities that unify the different developments. Its role is not unlike what the Rouse Co. did on a larger scale with Columbia.
"Ahmanson's objective essentially is to put a new town on the map," said Elizabeth Jackson, an executive vice president with Baltimore-based Adams Sandler Inc., which is coordinating promotion of the planned community. "We wanted to establish the concept of a new town, and we wanted awareness [throughout] the Baltimore area. That requires reaching beyond the next-door market."
Ms. Jackson said smaller new-home developments can rely on what she calls the next-door market because, "Baltimore is very neighborhood-loyal." It has been an article of faith in the local building industry that Baltimore consumers from one part of town -- the eastern end of Baltimore and Baltimore County, for example, or the I-83 corridor -- tend to stay close to their roots when they go home-shopping.
"Owings Mills may not be on the top of the list for someone from Carney," Ms. Jackson said.
The size and diversity of the new Owings Mills development demand that it draw more than just residents of the city's western and northwestern suburbs, she said. The television advertising is designed to make people aware of Owings Mills New Town -- and to give them an image of a desirable place -- before they even begin to shop for a new home.
The strategy used in the advertisements boils down to one word: nostalgia. The ads push hard on the theme of community and neighborhood, harking back to a time when neighborhoods were considered more tightly knit and less "transient," in Ms. Jackson's description. The tag line: "Owings Mills New Town -- And Life Is Good Again."
Ms. Jackson said the ads began airing Feb. 27, concentrating on programs such as news broadcasts and "L.A. Law," which she said draw lots of viewers from the higher-income segment of the 25-54 age bracket.
The campaign's print ads, which use the same pastel-oriented cartoon theme as the television spots, have more information than the TV spots and are aimed at people who have already heard of the community on television. Print ads are aimed at consumers who have already decided to look for a home and who tend to read newspaper real estate sections. Unlike the television ads, the print campaign also names the companies that have begun to build homes in the development.
Mr. Griffin said two other deals with builders are signed, but not yet announced, because of contingencies in the contracts. Another builder is close to signing up, he said, declining to name the three.
The builders already involved in the project are also taking out small print ads that tout their products, Ms. Jackson said. The developers also are using some billboard advertising, although only one billboard is currently in use, she said.
Owings Mills New Town may soon have some company in advertising on television. A spokeswoman for the Ryland Group Inc. of Columbia, the leading builder in metropolitan Baltimore and one of the nation's biggest building companies, is planning some television advertising as part of its spring campaign.
WBAL-TV is considering plans for an advertising program that features new homes, said Tom Van Benschoten, the station's director of sales development. Similar Sunday morning programs, sponsored by real estate brokerage firms and aired ++ on WMAR-TV and WJZ-TV, focus mostly on existing homes.
"[Builders] have to market like never before," Mr. Van Benschoten said. Television advertising makes sense because it has "a very visual product," he said.