NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- General Motors has pulled ad dollars from many of the biggest opportunities on TV -- the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Oscars and New Year's Eve festivities among them. But there's one place where GM is staying put: a relatively tiny but well-heeled program on News Corp.'s FX cable network.
Commercial-free courtesy of Cadillac
When the taut legal drama "Damages" debuts its second season on Jan. 7, it will do so with a commercial-free episode brought to viewers courtesy of General Motors' Cadillac. The lead actress in the series, Glenn Close, will appear in short clips before and after the show telling viewers that Cadillac is responsible for the lack of ads and will even thank the auto marketer, according to FX executives.
The ad maneuver is worth noting, not only because it suggests GM will continue to advertise in places it considers a good strategic fit, but also because it hints that some of those places may have narrower reach than the TV venues that typically benefit from car advertising. The original run of "Damages" reached an average of about two million people on a live-plus-same-day basis, according to Nielsen Media Research. The past Super Bowl, on the other hand, reached 97.5 million viewers.
This will mark Cadillac's second season with the critically acclaimed drama. In 2007, Ms. Close drove a Cadillac CTS in "Damages," while an Escalade and Cadillac limousine also made appearances. Starting in January, episodes of "Damages" will feature the CTS once again as well as an Escalade hybrid vehicle, said Michael Brochstein, senior VP-ad sales, FX.
'Signed, sealed, delivered'
While General Motors is cutting back ad spending in a number of areas, it had already negotiated its coming appearance in "Damages" during upfront sales negotiations, said Mr. Brochstein, and had in fact been talking to FX executives about a return to the series when its first season concluded in October of 2007. Adding heft to the agreement, perhaps, is the fact that the appearances of the cars had to be woven into the scripts during the writing process, which often takes place well before the filming of an episode.
"The issue is we were already signed, sealed and delivered. While it's true we have cut back on a number of things, we are honoring our commitments where we have them and this was one of those," said Joanne Krell, director-communications for Cadillac.
One reason for Cadillac's relative enthusiasm for the show, suggested FX's Mr. Brochstein, is the fact that audiences appeared to remember the cars in the show. Data from Nielsen IAG, which measures audiences' reaction to and recall of product placements in TV programs, was quite positive. "General recall, brand recall, brand opinion improved dramatically, and that's what they were looking for," he said.
In for season three
Even so, "Damages" reaches a relatively small amount of people, despite a positive reception among critics. The overall audience dwindled for the show as its season progressed: approximately 3.66 million live plus same-day viewers tuned in to the series' launch, according to Nielsen, but only around 1.69 million tuned in for the original broadcast of the series' finale.
Cadillac's association with "Damages" carries some importance to FX. Cadillac committed about $1.78 million to "Damages" in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence – a significant portion of the $2.27 million it spent on FX overall that year. In 2008, which contained no new season of "Damages" due to the writers strike, Cadillac spent only $645,300 on the cable channel, TNS said.
Will GM opt for a third season of the program? FX has already picked up "Damages" for future appearances. Cadillac has right of refusal when it comes to its ad pact with the show, said Mr. Brochstein.