Given ESPN’s target audience of men and sports fans, it’s a natural that big automotive brands such as General Motors, Toyota and DaimlerChrysler would pony up for ads on the network. The same goes for beverage companies, such as Gatorade, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. In fact, cars and beverages are each among the top five advertising categories on ESPN.
While more women are buying cars, many makes of cars still target male consumers, since men often go into the dealership and do the test drives, which is why automotive fits well with ESPN, said Peter Butchen, senior VP, national television, at Initiative Media. Initiative does not represent automotive advertisers.
General Motors is ESPN’s largest automotive advertiser, said Ed Erhardt, president, ESPN/ABC Sports customer marketing and sales. The carmaker, which has peddled its vehicles on ESPN for more than 20 years, is the presenting sponsor of the ESPY Awards, ESPN’s annual ceremony honoring athletic performance, and has been since the show’s inception 12 years ago. “That’s really our showpiece for best in sports, and the fact that General Motors recognized very early on that that property was an important property in sports speaks to the relationship,” he said.
General Motors also advertises across ESPN media in its sports fantasy league sections and has a regular presence on “SportsCenter.” The company is a top five advertiser for ESPN and ESPN/ABC Sports.
Also prominent in the car category is Toyota, the halftime sponsor for the “National Basketball Association on ESPN” and for “Sunday Night Football.” Toyota will be the first automotive advertiser later this year for ESPN Shorts, a brand integration platform of 90-second stories told over five to six weeks by advertisers during “SportsCenter.”
Toyota has primarily relied on ESPN to market its pickup trucks, said Mark Simmons, national manager, advertising strategy and media, at Toyota. Trucks are a key growth area for the car manufacturer, and since 85 percent of pickup truck buyers are men, ESPN is a key place to be, he said.
The Chrysler Group has advertised in National Hockey League programming, and its Dodge brand is the presenting sponsor of ESPN’s Great Outdoors Games. Jeep is the exclusive automotive sponsor for the Winter X Games.
Sports advertising is a key way to reach men, but because women influence 80 percent of car purchases, it’s also important to communicate the attributes of vehicles that will appeal to women, said Julie Roehm, director of marketing communications for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.
The Chrysler Group has been an advertiser on ESPN for more than 20 years. Because women are involved in most auto-buying decisions these days, the ads must communicate features that appeal to both men and women, she said. “It’s important to see the product appeals to men, and we have to let them know they will get approval from the wife to buy it,” she said.
Ms. Roehm said Chrysler is particularly interested in exploring emerging media such as ESPN Motion, wireless and video-on-demand. “Of all the major networks, working with Ed Erhardt has been the most productive, because they have a very progressive viewpoint on where to take an advertiser into the future,” she said.
Gatorade stands at the top of the non-alcoholic beverage category on ESPN and was one of the first brands to do an integrated buy with the network four years ago, Mr. Erhardt said. “They were involved in just about all of our mediums,” he said. While Gatorade is not a presenting sponsor for any ESPN sport, the brand is represented on the sidelines of every major sport through its relationship with the sports leagues, Mr. Erhardt said. Gatorade is a top 10 spender on ESPN, Mr. Erhardt said.
Pepsi’s had a large presence on ESPN through its Mountain Dew brand, which is the exclusive beverage sponsor for the X Games.
Coca-Cola’s position on ESPN has manifested through Sprite’s role as the exclusive beverage sponsor of the NBA as well as “Powerade Breaks,” the five- to seven-second interstitials that fall between studio shows and live sports. The short spots showcase an animated Powerade drink with the ESPN logo urging viewers to keep watching. Coca-Cola owns Powerade.
The Powerade breaks have worked well for Coca-Cola because they are “branded segments that give us a little more association with the fun of watching ESPN,” said David Raines, VP, integrated communication, for Coca-Cola North America. The Coke brand has also been featured in ESPN promos where a pizza delivery guy brings pizza and Coke into an ESPN meeting. Also, Coca-Cola has done some product integration in ESPN’s “Cold Pizza” show.
Mr. Raines declined to reveal specifics of Coca-Cola’s spending across ESPN, saying only that “ESPN is an important part of our investment mix.”
That’s because advertising in sports is an effective way to reach one of the soft drink company’s largest consumer bases-men 18 and over. “Adult males drink a lot of Coca-Cola,” Mr. Raines said. In addition, the passion many fans feel for sports can increase the “emotional connection” they feel with brands that advertise, he said. The company’s “best work” has seen an increase in ad recall and awareness of 35 percent to 40 percent in sports programming, Mr. Raines said. “I can either randomly schedule advertising in media environments or emotionally link my environment into content, and that thematically connected content has more resonance and power than a randomly scheduled spot,” he said. Also, Coca-Cola has been moving ad dollars away from the broadcast networks and toward cable increasingly over the past three years, he said. “ESPN is unique in what they do. They have something nobody else does.”