An "American Idol" for the gospel set, "Sunday Best" was conceived by BET Chairman-CEO Debra Lee as the perfect launching pad for the branded-integrations unit she created earlier this year. Alvin Bowles, former publisher of AOL Black Voices and an ex-marketing exec at AOL Time Warner, was brought on to spearhead the group in April, reporting to Louis Carr, BET's media-sales president.
Beyond passive integrations
Although ratings and research showed "Sunday Best" was the right program to get major brands involved, Mr. Bowles' main challenge was making sure he and his team chose the right ones. BET has done many of what Mr. Bowles calls "passive integrations," but the opportunity to take marketers on a more active level had yet to be executed. As such, success metrics are different from the usual gross-rating points or total audience growth. "It's not how many individuals watched the show, it's contextual relevance. I can give you all the ratings points you're reaching for, but if it's not aligned with the brand and its attributes, it's worth nothing."
Ms. Lee is pleased with the early results. "The mission of our integrated marketing group is to develop smart, contextually relevant, high-impact cross-platform marketing solutions for our clients' brands, and the team truly delivered on that promise with the 'Sunday Best' promotions," Ms. Lee said. "We're thrilled to partner with Toyota and Procter & Gamble for 'Sunday Best' and create such innovative executions to showcase their strong brands, and as we continue to develop more original programming, we are excited to identify new opportunities for our clients."
P&G has been BET's largest advertiser for a number of years, so Tide was eager to find a way to come on board. The detergent brand partnered with the network previously in 2005 when BET aired footage from Tide's "Loads of Hope" initiative for Hurricane Katrina. The 30-day program brought 10,000 loads of free laundry to hurricane survivors, recruiting singer John Legend along the way. Tide's contribution to "Sunday Best" is similar in that the brand will donate a $300,000 Loads of Hope package to the winning singer's community, church-related or otherwise.
"Loads of Hope" is also the theme of Tide's character-driven interstitials, which spotlight contestants sharing their back stories throughout the progress of the show. The spots will be staggered throughout the program. They also represent the next phase in the "Loads of Hope" effort for Tide. "The program for them hasn't had a fresh makeover for a long time, so we said, 'Here's a way to create separation between 'American Idol' and other performance-driven shows,'" BET's Mr. Bowles said. "Here, you're competing not just for yourself but for the community."
Tide has also been amping up its branded-entertainment initiatives of late, signing on for its first mobile series last week with GoTV's "Crescent Heights." If it seems like the latest projects are signs of Tide taking a more blatant stab at hitting tech-savvy young adults -- well, that's the point. Suzanne Watson, Tide's North American brand manager, said, "Tide wants to continue to be on the forefront of marketing for Procter & Gamble and reach consumers in more relevant ways in each and every way."
Toyota had a similar leveraging opportunity in mind when it brought its Camry into "Sunday Best," as the car is the top-selling in BET's core demo of 18- to 34-year-old African-Americans. Michael Tresvant, associate media director for Toyota's Chicago-based agency Burrell, said research had been conducted across six other Toyota brands to determine the effectiveness of branded integrations, and each one yielded positive results. Camry had done on-air integrations with other black-targeted shows, such as CW's "Girlfriends," but their contribution to "Sunday Best" is even more significant. Like Tide, Toyota is sponsoring its own branded vignettes, but with commercial engagement at the forefront.
The marketer bought out all the "A" positions in the "Sunday Best" commercial pods to lead viewers into the break with its "Moving Forward" tagline, aiming for a more seamless transition between content and ads.
Effects of DVR viewing
Mr. Tresvant said the effects of DVR viewing on African-American audiences are still a bit unproved, but the importance of getting the brands in the show was key. "Being involved at that level, whether you DVR the show or not, we'll be a part of it. We will still be an intricate part of the show, so at that point you walk away with the understanding that Camry has a commitment not only to the audience but to the emerging new look of gospel music."
DVRs or not, the number of live impressions Tide and Toyota can generate are also higher than usual, as "Sunday Best" airs new episodes every Tuesday, with encores Friday nights and twice on Sundays during peak gospel-viewing hours. "We want to expose the show to as large an audience as possible," Mr. Bowles said. "We really feel it deserves a prime-time weekday slot. We can't air everything new on Sundays because some of the intended audience is going to be at church."
His first major integration behind him, Mr. Bowles is looking to other shows and ad categories for future projects with the still-nascent branded integrations group. Shows like "College Hill Interns," he said, could bring in advertisers in the luxury category, while home furnishings and retail, which have also been long-standing partners with the network, could expand their efforts going forward.
"Part of it is really responding to the marketplace, but the other part, to consumers, is needing to see a diverse array of [brands] on the network," Mr. Bowles said. "This is something we don't take lightly. We have to be authentic because we will get called on them."