Animal Planet Branches Out With New Series, Ad Deals

Pizza Hut, Honda and Mattel Among Marketers Attracted by Inventive Program Concepts

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NEW YORK ( -- There's the warm, cuddly Animal Planet of yore, then there's Animal Planet with teeth. That's the aggressive label the network applied to its rebranded programming efforts earlier this year, as well as the ad-sales strategy that has diversified the Discovery cabler's client base beyond the pet food and kitty litter purveyors it built its business on.
'The Vanishing Frog': Clorox teamed up with the network for the special.
'The Vanishing Frog': Clorox teamed up with the network for the special.

Marjorie Kaplan, president-general manager of Animal Planet, described the current Animal Planet as being more of a mind-set than a network. "People do not watch the TV network because they have pets. People like Animal Planet because they like TV," she said. "So from an advertising standpoint, we want to make sure we retain our base advertisers and still become a broad entertainment destination."

New angles on animals
The network has hit ratings strides in recent months with shows that appeal to a broader adult 25- to 54-year-old audience, including "Groomer Has It," a "Project Runway" competition for dog groomers; "Meerkat Manor," a dramatized docu-series about a family of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert; and the new "Living With the Wolfman," a series about a wolf expert who eats, sleeps and lives with wolves in England. "Wolfman" helped the network achieve a 26% increase in prime-time viewers for the week of Oct. 20, and a 31% boost in total viewers aged 2 and older.

As the programming becomes younger and more diverse, veering away from its standard pet tricks and pet owners' fare, so do the advertisers. In an effort to boost its commercial ratings, which measure how many viewers stay tuned to the network during commercial breaks, Animal Planet has been partnering with non-endemic advertisers such as Pizza Hut, Honda and Mattel for branded commercial vignettes to keep viewers engaged. In some cases, entire weeks of programming have been sponsored by advertisers; for example, insurer Geico sponsored Reptile Week and featured its gecko spokescreature leaning against the week's logo.
Marjorie Kaplan
Marjorie Kaplan

In addition to vignettes, Animal Planet has been making frequent use of the lower-third portion of the screen during programming to make sponsored plugs wherever it doesn't make sense for sponsors to be integrated into the actual program. For last season's "Meerkat Manor," Honda featured an animated graphic of meerkats driving its Odyssey vehicle across the bottom of the screen.

Integrations get in the kennel
As for integrations, Animal Planet's new reality TV-based programming direction has presented new opportunities for advertisers to get involved in the programming itself. Sharon O'Sullivan, Animal Planet's senior VP-ad sales, said the second season of "Groomer Has It" will have four new advertisers tied to it, while the annual AKC/Eukanaba National Dog Championship will bring Chase Bank on board this year to present its Top 3 Dogs to Watch.

Some of Animal Planet's non-endemic ad deals have even emerged from corporate philanthropy. The Clorox Co. recently teamed up with the network for the upcoming special "The Vanishing Frog," airing Nov. 20 and hosted by frequent network personality Jeff Corwin. Ellen Liu, Clorox's media director, said the special emerged from Clorox's existing efforts to use its bleach to disinfect tools used to help prevent the spread of a deadly pollutant among frogs, the chytrid fungus.
Sharon O'Sullivan
Sharon O'Sullivan

"It was less of a branding play and more of a cause play," Ms. Liu said. "We approached them and said: 'Hey, we've got this really amazing thing going -- it's a great fit for the network, great for the brand. We know Jeff Corwin, and this is a real passion project for him. Can we put this together?'"

The new strategy appears to be paying off, as the network is on track to outpace its ad revenue over 2007 by double digits. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Animal Planet grossed $223.6 million in ad revenue in 2007, with an additional $135.9 million already logged for the first seven months of 2008.

Advertisers adopting more pets
If this year's Super Bowl was any indication, advertisers will continue to get more animal-friendly. Ms. O'Sullivan said 30% of the ads in this year's game featured animals, a good sign that ads will be more appealing to Animal Planet's audience, which consists of 70% pet owners.

Added Ms. Kaplan, "In our environment, we know people like to see animals. Whether they learn anything about their brand from that is to be determined," she said.
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