The ABC Television Network, struggling to improve upon last season’s lackluster fourth-place finish among the major broadcast networks, is planning its biggest fall marketing campaign ever-featuring a new $20 million promotion with McDonald’s Corp. and off-line branding efforts for each of its new shows.
“We have put more resources behind this launch than ever before,” said Mike Benson, senior VP of marketing for ABC, a division of The Walt Disney Co. “We know we have our work cut out for us. If we don’t, we are cheating ourselves.”
The new deal with McDonald’s-a longtime Disney/ABC marketing partner-will help kick off ABC’s relaunch of its TGIF programming block, which will start Sept. 26. The TGIF lineup will consist of returning series “George Lopez” and “Life With Bonnie,” both moved to Friday, and new comedies “Married to the Kellys” and “Hope & Faith.” The magazine show “20/20” also airs Friday but is not part of TGIF.
No paid advertising dollars will change hands in the McDonald’s deal, but ABC will get significant signage in the 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants for two weeks starting Sept. 15. In exchange, McDonald’s will get advertising/promotional time on ABC to co-promote its new marketing campaign, “I’m Loving It,” as well as TGIF. Marketing analysts estimate the value to McDonald’s of the promotion at $20 million.
“We are repositioning TGIF,” Mr. Benson said. “We are going after more adults 18 to 49 in our audience. This is great escapism with four top-quality comedies.”
In addition to the McDonald’s promotion, ABC will offer 550,000 TGIF-branded pizza boxes to restaurants in Los Angeles and New York, generating some 2.2 million impressions among 18- to 49-year-olds. Wal-Mart will run TGIF promos on its in-store network, generating 41.2 million impressions. Overall the network’s fall marketing campaign is expected to generate 50 billion impressions in the demo, according to ABC.
“That’s a triple, if not a home run,” said Mark Workman, president of First Fireworks Group, a Los Angeles entertainment marketing consultant, about the McDonald’s/ABC effort.
McDonald’s already announced it use singer Justin Timberlake in its new “I’m Loving It” campaign, but Mr. Timberlake will not participate in the ABC promos. Last year, McDonald’s and ABC co-marketed the network’s Happy Hour programming block, which ran from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. five nights a week. That campaign yielded mixed results and has not been continued this year.
ABC is heavily promoting each of its other shows with significant off-air marketing. Primarily networks have promoted their shows on their own air, often in promotional spots adjacent to their highest-rated sports, news or entertainment shows. The problem is what to do when the network doesn’t have enough hits to leverage into promo power.
As broadcast ratings eroded in recent years, networks stepped up off-air marketing as a way to get customers to sample new programs. In the early 1990s this included broad-based marketing partnerships with retailers such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. (with NBC) and Kmart (with CBS).
Last year ABC tried off-air marketing for the series “Push, Nevada,” including street teams that pretended to be from the fictitious city, and an Internet campaign. The show still got canceled early.
Also last year, as part of an effort to involve more of Disney in the promotion of ABC’s shows, the network held weekend events at its Disney’s California Adventure theme park, where stars of its series interacted with the public. Disney and ABC planned to repeat that effort over the past weekend for this year’s shows.
In the recent past, ABC marketing efforts focused on the network’s overall brand, with its well-publicized “Yellow” and “TV is Good” campaign, which met with mixed reviews from critics. Now, Mr. Benson said, the emphasis has shifted to specific programs.
“We are more focused on creating separate brands for each show,” he said.
For instance, the network is producing a gay-targeted campaign for “It’s All Relative,” a show about a couple whose parents come from vastly different backgrounds. One is from a traditional Irish-Catholic family while the other has two gay male parents.
ABC will stage events in gay bars in 35 markets and also advertise the show in gay publications.
For comedy “I’m With Her,” about a regular guy who dates a famous movie actress, ABC will use street teams to hand out, in major tourist locations in Los Angeles, 40,000 “celebrity dating guides.” Team members will wear sandwich boards asking “Wanna Date a Star?” will distribute the guides similar to “star maps.”
“Extreme Makeover,” one of ABC’s reality shows, will be the subject of thirty-second promos four times daily this month on the Health Club Trivia Network, an in-club TV network.
ABC’s new action hour “Threat Matrix” will have an in-theater trailer campaign in AMC, Pacific and General Cinema theaters. The show will also benefit from an online game component.
ABC finished the 2002-03 broadcast season tied for fourth place in the adults 18 to 49 demo with an average of 4.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Though it made some gains with its Tuesday comedies, ABC executives admit the network is still is looking for improvement in many dayparts.
One competing marketing executive believes some of ABC’s off-line efforts really don’t do much-other than get press for the network’s marketing efforts. In part, he said, these off-line marketing efforts are small-scale.
“It’s like the talking `Norm’ urinal marketing effort,” said the grousing network executive. “It gets headlines. It’s a fun story. But it doesn’t really work.”
The executive was referring to ABC’s promotion a few years ago for the now-canceled sitcom “Norm” in which actor Norm Macdonald’s recorded voice emanated from restrooms in bars when men entered. The show didn’t make it to a second season.
Other networks are also focusing marketing efforts off-air. Fox has been doing a promotion with AOL Music and several record labels for “The O.C.” in which viewers can see part of a music video during a commercial break. In exchange, Fox gets advertising on the AOL Music Web area, as well as radio station promotional time from the record labels.
Ford Motor Co. is again sponsoring the commercial-free season premiere of Fox’s “24.” In exchange for product placement for its new F-150 truck, the network receives an in-theater program trailer for the show sponsored by Ford. Ford is also footing the bill for a sneak DVD preview of “24” to be included in upcoming issues of People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly.
Like last year, CBS is giving out free “fall preview” DVDs at Blockbuster Video stories, a sister Viacom company of CBS. General Motors’ Envoy SUV sponsored the DVDs. In addition, as in previous years, CBS is running a 90-minute preview of its new shows on American Airlines flights.
New off-line marketing efforts differ from bigger deals in the past, such as NBC’s promotion with Sears or CBS’s hookup with Kmart, marketing executives said. Recent efforts are more targeted.
“We choose partnerships where we can dominate, such as with a Blockbuster or American Airlines,” said George Schweitzer, executive VP of marketing and communications for CBS. “The bigger retail promotions reach everyone, but not everyone is a TV buff. People don’t go into retail stores to watch TV.”