‘Friday Night Lights’ Shine on Applebee’s

Feb 5, 2007  •  Post A Comment

If the people who work at Applebee’s had Nielsen meters in their homes, “Friday Night Lights” might have better ratings.

The chain made an advertising deal to have one of its restaurants in Austin serve as a set in the drama about small-town Texas high school football. Despite the show’s low ratings, Applebee’s considers its deal with NBC as money well spent.

“Of course we’d like to see the ratings a bit higher, but really there’s not been a down side to the integration that we’ve seen,” said Donna Josephson, executive director of field marketing for Applebee’s.

The company hasn’t gotten back formal research on the effectiveness of the integration deal, but the restaurant chain’s employees get reminders to tune in and they’re proud of the show and the way the restaurant is depicted, she said.

Ms. Josephson declined to say how much Applebee’s has paid for its season-long commitment to the show. ITVX, a research company that tracks product placement, estimates that a scene in an October episode of the show in which a character working as an Applebee’s waitress meets an interesting man, was worth $155,000. That compares with $135,000 for a 30-second spot.

ITVX said the Applebee’s placement was one of the top five in terms of engaging viewers that week, out of 70 shows measured.

Last week, Applebee’s got a prominent placement in the show again as a radio broadcast was seen originating in the restaurant, where the football team’s booster club regularly meets. The announcer declared that he was broadcasting from Applebee’s to set up the scene.

With digital video recorders taking a bigger bite out of traditional TV commercials, advertisers are looking at product placement as a way to put their brands in front of viewers. And networks see it as way to increase the value of the TV ad deals they provide to sponsors.

Product placement could even give a boost to a show like “Friday Night Lights,” which despite its critical acclaim could have been canceled at midseason due to low ratings and might not live to see season two.

Last week, “Friday Night Lights” bounced back from a season low to register a 2.4 rating in the 18 to 49 demo, its best since October, but still finished fourth in its timeslot. TV executives say that while being advertiser friendly can help keep a show on the air, it is just one of many factors that go into that decision.

In addition to Applebee’s, Gatorade, Toyota and Under Armour have integration deals with “Friday Night Lights.”

Selling ad packages that include integration and extensions onto the Internet, VOD and mobile media is becoming more important at the broadcast networks as advertisers seek ways other than traditional commercials to connect with viewers.

“This has been a pivotal year for the marketing community and the television community to establish ways to work with our brands trying to offset the effects of the DVR,” said Jim Hoffman, senior VP of network entertainment sales at NBC. “I think we’re all on the same page with the same issues as far as clients looking to market their product to a more fragmented audience,” he said.

Applebee’s is a big TV spender. It bought about $27 million worth of ad time on NBC during the first 11 months of 2006, according to Nielsen Monitor Plus. This TV season the chain spent more than $3 million with NBC in September, October and November, with $550,000 worth of that coming in “Friday Night Lights,” which premiered Oct. 3.

Ms. Josephson has concerns about the continuing effectiveness of commercials.

“One of the reasons we took on this partnership is because with traditional viewing patterns changing, we need to find new creative venues to catch viewers’ attention and we thought this was an excellent way to do that,” she said.

Commercials combined with integration deals stick with viewers two times better than spots by themselves, Mr. Hoffman said. The halo effect of having a product integrated into a show can last, boosting viewer engagement with a spot 15 percent to 20 percent a week later.

Applebee’s media buying agency, Starcom, identified “Friday Night Lights” back in February and made a deal with NBC to secure the show for the restaurant category even before it was on the schedule.

“All the themes of football, family, neighbors are a perfect fit for what Applebee’s really stands for,” said Caroline Boes, associate director of Starcom Entertainment.

Mr. Hoffman declined to disclose the financial details of the integration package, but agency executives said that with a new show like “Friday Night Lights,” NBC probably sought a reasonable fee on top of the cost of the commercials Applebee’s planned to run.

For more on Applebee’s “Friday Night Lights” integration deal, visit TVWeek.com