A&E, MasterCard in Ad Pact

Aug 29, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a priceless combination, MasterCard will be the presenting sponsor of A&E’s new series “Random 1.”

In the series, a team of idealists gives help to people who need a hand. MasterCard will be the official card of the series, used when supplies are bought. The credit card company is also donating a $1,000 gift card for each episode to defray some of the costs of “Random 1’s” good-deed-doing.

Integrated sponsorship and product placement are becoming increasingly common for cable networks.

“It’s the revenue reality, the marketplace reality, in terms of what our clients are looking for,” said Melinda McLaughlin, senior VP of integrated sales and marketing for A&E Television Networks. A&E just finished totaling its upfront and calculating how many deals it did with integrated elements, Ms. McLaughlin said. The network found that “a huge percentage” of its deals have integrated elements in them, and that those deals are to A&E’s benefit: Incremental revenue from integrated deals was up by double digits from the previous year, she said.

Ms. McLaughlin declined to say how much MasterCard is paying for the sponsorship but said the company is spending more with A&E Television Networks than it did last year.

As was the case in getting MasterCard on board with “Random 1,” a key to successful integrated promotions is working early with the network’s program and production teams.

“We went through a lot of unpleasant experiences in the early days of branded entertainment,” Ms. McLaughlin said. But as the success stories started rolling in, “Suddenly they get it. The more they fill us in, the more we’re going to drive revenue and the more we’re all going to be happy. Not that it’s “Kumbaya” every day, but it’s pretty good.”

Since AETN has worked before with MasterCard, which uses the catchphrase “priceless” in its ads, the advertiser was top of mind when “Random 1” was greenlighted.

“This is an appropriate way for the ‘priceless’ campaign to support random acts of kindness in a way that doesn’t at all interfere with the integrity of the show,” Ms. McLaughlin said.

As a sponsor, MasterCard will get an opening billboard and will also be mentioned in the credits.

The hosts and co-creators of the show, John Chester and Andre Miller, will use special MasterCards with “Random 1” and A&E branding (the card does not exist outside the show). They’ll use the card to buy supplies, and pay for meals, but not to pay for anything that’s being given to the people they’re shown helping.

A&E has not guaranteed how much the card will be shown during the show. But it is producing interstitial programming featuring the cast and crew using their MasterCards.

“To the viewer they’re going to look very much like program content that will be crafted from the in-card usage in the filming of the show,” Ms. McLaughlin said. The vignettes will reflect the credit card issuer’s marketing message by saying these random acts can’t be bought, but for everything else, there’s MasterCard.

MasterCard has had heavy involvement with sister network History Channel and A&E Television Networks hoped to get the credit card company more widely represented on its properties, Ms. McLaughlin said.

She added that A&E Television Networks has learned to do integrated programs more efficiently, so they cost less but are a bigger value to clients. “The trick is finding that balance where the price, the resources to implement these things is less than the value we’re getting in return.”