Mark Burnett, Adman

Dec 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Producer Mark Burnett created “Survivor,” “The Apprentice” and countless other TV shows. But the fun part of his job is selling sponsorships.
He says he’s very involved in ad sales, helping to gather sponsors for his programs, which rely heavily on integrated marketing. He’s been selling sponsorships since the days when he needed companies to back his own participation as an athlete in adventure races in France.
“I’ve always said, truly, that were I not a TV producer, I’d like to own an advertising agency,” Mr. Burnett said. “I really love that business and I think that one of the most underappreciated art forms are 30-second commercials and marketing campaigns. You can’t really put your finger one why it works and how it makes you feel, and with a 30-second spot, it’s really hard to tell a story in that amount of time.”
The new season of “The Apprentice” premieres Jan. 7 on NBC. Mr. Burnett’s company has landed 20 brand partners, including AdSpace Networks, Adwalker, AMC Entertainment, Dial Corp., El Pollo Loco, GNC, The Home Depot Center, KB Home, Lexus, Priceline.com, Ralphs supermarkets, SmartMouth, Sue Bee Honey and Trina Turk.
Mr. Burnett said he knows what these companies are looking for. “They’re not interested in pats on the back or awards. They’re not really interested in ratings. They’re interested in selling stuff,” he said. “Their job is to move products off of shelves, automobiles out of showrooms. If you’re in banking, have more customers. That’s what their job is. Therefore, bearing that in mind and as an entrepreneur, it just is a little easier for me to try to meet objectives. That’s what I do.”
Last season’s edition of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” didn’t draw the kinds of ratings the show has in the past, and the Martha Stewart edition of the show fared even more poorly. That has led some observers to note that the sponsors on this year’s edition are more obscure than the Pontiacs, Burger Kings, Visas, M&Ms and Sonys that have been featured previously. There are also questions about whether Mr. Burnett is able to charge the kinds of rates the show commanded in the past.
Mr. Burnett notes that some of the sponsors, such as Lexus and Dial, are major marketers. And he adds that “The Apprentice” is not necessarily a show that sponsors need to come back to year after year.
“Honestly, we don’t look at it that way. It’s not like ‘Survivor,’ where it’s incumbency and you repeat year after year,” he said. “I don’t think companies want to do the same thing every year. It completely depends on their marketing needs. They’re not buying advertising. They’re literally trying to give a pop in their marketing campaign. Therefore you have to have a specific new launch or a product or something going on.”
Mr. Burnett and his sponsors also declined to discuss specifics of how much it costs to be on “The Apprentice.” “It’s not like a 30-second spot with a CPM. It depends on what they’re going to do for us in marketing terms, what our partnership is,” Mr. Burnett said. “Remember, the be-all and end-all of the show isn’t integrated marketing. The be-all and end-all of the show is a creative dramatic show. As a producer, I’ve done more integrated marketing than anyone you can name, so I totally understand it and in some way probably wrote the book on it.”
Nevertheless, some changes have been made to the program to make it more effective as a marketing vehicle. Mr. Burnett said ad and marketing executives from the sponsor companies will get more air time.
“Rather than have so much time with Ivanka and Don Jr. following the apprentices around in the field, we did a bit more of that with the marketing executives,” he said. “They’re the ones who really care about it and really know. They’re not going to pull any punches.” The marketing executives now will give Donald Trump the final briefing on how the teams handled the task before Mr. Trump goes into the boardroom to decide who gets fired.
The other people whose jobs are on the line in “The Apprentice” are the sponsors, who say they expect big things, but have not received the ratings or reach guarantees in more typical advertising deals.
“We have a product launch and a product expansion,” said Brian Shook, senior VP and general manager of the home care division of The Dial Corp. Dial’s Soft Scrub Deep Clean Bathroom Cleaner and Renuzit Super Odor Neutralizer will be the subjects of marketing challenges on two separate episodes of the series.
“Between the two in 2007 we expect to generate about $30 million in retail sales,” Mr. Shook said. “As far as consumer impressions for the two products, we expect to have over 400 million consumer impressions over the course of the program.”
Mr. Shook said Dial likes being on “The Apprentice” because “I think more and more consumers are TiVo-ing through the commercials.” Viewers have a relationship with the show, so integrating a product into the show “creates a long-term relationship with your product as well,” he said.
The show will be the centerpiece of a marketing program designed to surround the consumer. “Without all the other touch points for the consumer, we wouldn’t get nearly the impact we’re projecting on this,” he said.
Mr. Shook did not seem concerned with the lack of a ratings guarantee for “The Apprentice.” “We know where the ratings were for the past season, and with the twists that they have in the upcoming season, we feel like the ratings are going to certainly climb,” he said. “We did look at an ROI on the total event, and we’re satisfied with that ROI. The show is a component of that, so you know we looked at what the show is providing us in that regard.”
Another company hitching its hopes to “The Apprentice” is Triumph Pharmaceuticals, makers of SmartMouth breath freshener. The company was approached by one of Mr. Burnett’s associates, Dan Gill, who said, “Your product sounds great and I think it would be a perfect fit,” recalled Susanne Cohen, president and CEO of Triumph. “And we said all righty.”
SmartMouth is planning to roll out its advertising campaign nationally in 2007, and will be doing a lot of promotions, including on-air, print, in-store and on the Internet, to surround the appearance on “The Apprentice.”
The contestants on the show suggested the company run a supplement in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, and the company will do so the week the episode featuring SmartMouth airs. “A TV show creates something that the company liked and ended up using in real-world marketing,” Mr. Burnett said. “Art imitates life and life imitates art. It makes me feel really good.”
Ms. Cohen said the company decided to be on “The Apprentice” because SmartMouth works so well, it’s hard to believe. “Most people believe that with Donald Trump and ‘The Apprentice,’ there’s some credibility there,” she said. “If ‘The Apprentice’ and Donald Trump believe in it enough to have it on their show, it’s worth a shot. And when you use it, it is literally an amazing product.”
Ms. Cohen said Mr. Trump himself requested that some of the product be sent to his home. “I know that Ivanka’s using it,” she added. “She told me.”
Like Dial, Triumph has not received any guarantees. “We know that there were about 12.8 million people that saw the finales of ‘The Apprentice’ last year and we’ve heard numbers of anywhere from 10 to 20 million people for this season.” Ms. Cohen said. “I think people are going to be interested in watching this, so we have very high expectations.”
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s Media Planner newsletter, a weekly source of breaking news, trend articles, profiles and data about media planning edited by Senior Editor Jon Lafayette.


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