BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- It takes a big man to admit he uses a male-enhancement supplement, and apparently former Dallas Cowboys head coach and current "Fox NFL Sunday" host Jimmy Johnson is just the guy. Mr. Johnson has just signed on as pitchman for late-night direct-response TV advertising staple ExtenZe in a new campaign breaking Monday.
Mr. Johnson isn't the first celebrity pitchman ExtenZe signed up for a campaign, designed to support the supplement as it shifts its focus to distribution through mass retailers such as Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and GNC. But Robert Yallen, CEO of Inter/Media, the Encino, Calif., direct-marketing agency behind the campaign, said the first spokesman returned the check after starting to shoot commercials and getting embarrassed.
Mr. Johnson is an unabashed user. Though Mr. Yallen declined to say whether he was one before signing the deal, Mr. Johnson is a user now and will attest to that in the 15-, 30- and 60-second ads. "Yes, there was a lot of concern [about potential embarrassment]," Mr. Yallen said. "But I think what we've done is legitimized this category that we brought into being 10 years ago."
Years ago, it was hard getting ads aired both because of the category and name of the product, he said. "Now, we've become very mainstream. ... We're in Walmart. And Walmart's a family store. I think Jimmy realized it's a legitimate product in a very legitimate category now. He's probably one of the few people who can pull this off and get gains in his career from this."
"Most men want to perform the best they can in just about everything," Mr. Johnson says in one spot. "Isn't that why we buy the biggest and best of everything?" He signs off with the tagline: "Go long with ExtenZe. I do."
Not about size
That said, it's really not about size, Mr. Yallen said. "We've migrated past the claim regarding male size and gone more to the enjoyment, energy, virility, male-enhancement side of it," he said.
Actually, ExtenZe has to be careful about exactly how it presents claims, Mr. Yallen said. "The new campaign is premised on two questions I constantly get asked. ... 'Does it work, and can I get a free sample?'"
The answer to both is yes. The former is borne out, he said, by a billion pills sold, largely to repeat customers for what he claims is the best-selling direct-response brand. And the latter actually comes along with an invitation in the commercial for purchasers to attend a future dinner event with Mr. Johnson, who also will appear on behalf of ExtenZe and its racing team at the Daytona 500 Feb. 14.
Inter/Media's Inter/Quantum distribution unit has won hard-fought retail space for the brand over the past two and a half years, now reaching 40,000 stores, Mr. Yallen said, with mass retail now accounting for most of the brand's $150 million in annual sales. The company has built that up one pill at a time, with the brand priced for about $1 per pill on walmart.com.
A growing amount of ExtenZe sales are to ethnic minorities and for a women's version, and Mr. Johnson works for both, Mr. Yallen said. The Billy Mays approach, he said, would not. "We're trying to build a brand," he said, comparing the new flight of ads to pharmaceutical advertising -- albeit not with pharmaceutical claims or disclaimers.