Entertainment Marketers of the Year

MVP: Olivier Gers, American Idol

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Who better to conquer that quintessentially American business of entertainment marketing than a Frenchman? Olivier Gers to be precise. Mr. Gers joined Fremantle Media North America five years ago to help marketers capitalize on the phenomenal success of "American Idol." (Fremantle and 19 Entertainment jointly own the show that airs on Fox.)
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Oodles of sponsors and tie-ins, a thriving website, unheard-of commercial prices and a stranglehold on young viewers.

Since then, he's notched 43 licensing partners, managed to keep the original three on-air sponsors -- Ford Motor Co., Coca-Cola Co.'s Coke and AT&T, formerly Cingular -- coming back for more each year. He now oversees 60 people globally on a raft of Fremantle Media shows, a big leap from the three people who shared his office back in the early days.

Global Idols
Promoted last August from exec VP-Americas for Fremantle to general manager of Fremantle Media Licensing Worldwide, Mr. Gers is busy jetting around the globe from Germany to Brazil, helping replicate the U.S. experience of licensing the "Idol" franchise. "It's fascinating to see that the show looks the same around the world," he says. "'Kazakhstan Idol' is like something you'd see with the U.S. version."

He's helping to launch five to six new versions of the cult singing competition in the next two months alone. "India is in its third season, and we're just starting the final stages in Brazil," he says. A total of 36 versions of the show have aired.

In more practical terms, Mr. Gers says U.S. business has grown 25% over the past year as a result of a cadre of companies that have joined to license the "Idol" name as it continues to dominate pop culture in the U.S. and abroad.

Loyal partners
Another testament to Mr. Gers' success are the big marketing partnerships with Ford, Coke and AT&T, which have stayed loyal to the franchise. Those three companies are the only TV partners, which entitles them to cross-media sponsorship opportunities. Ford, for instance, added a contest on the "Idol" website, featuring contestants' music videos, with chances to win a prize.

Other marketers such as Kellogg Co. signed on last year for the "American Idol" summer tour, which Kellogg used to promote its Pop-Tarts and Corn Pops brands through print and web promotions. John Burbank, VP-marketing at AT&T, says he's worked with Mr. Gers over the past few years and the program has been an interesting challenge.

"There are such high expectations for it," Mr. Burbank says. "At Fremantle you're in between two powerful forces: the producers and the advertisers. Olivier has been masterful at managing the demands of advertisers and the producers."

"He's a super guy," he adds. "I honestly would say he's been able to make what is some difficult business stuff fun and friendly."

Before the launch of this season's "American Idol" in January, Fremantle announced a raft of new partnerships with marketers such as candy maker Nestle USA and Nestle subsidiary Dreyer's, leading Advertising Age to value the franchise at around $2.5 billion globally. The Fox ad-sales department books about $500 million annually on "American Idol," according to TNS Media Intelligence.

AmericanIdol.com also has become a hot property among marketers, and plans are afoot on the site for a virtual "Idol" world, an online game that will attempt to simulate the contestants' on-air experiences with the judges. This summer's spinoff marketing concept includes "Camp Idol," for aspiring young singers, who will be joined by some of the latest season's participants.

"It's been a team effort," Mr. Gers says, "and it's been a fun ride. ... The show is now a part of American society. My doorman stops me and says, 'Great show.'"

Now that "American Idol" is what Mr. Gers calls an "institution," both Fremantle and its partners have moved into the cause-marketing realm, tapping companies from Apple to Allstate to help raise money for charity through the show. Half of the money will go to American-based charities, and the other half will head overseas, says Mr. Gers, who has been intimately involved in the project.

Expensive spots
"American Idol" is expected to remain on top of Advertising Age's prices chart, which ranks the shows with the most expensive ad spots. This season, prices for a 30-second spot cost an average of $620,000. Media buyers report that 30-second spots go for between $550,000 to $700,000, depending on inventory and the prices around the finale.

The show, which airs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and selected Thursdays, likely will not budge out of the Nos. 1 and 2 spots among 18- to 49-year-olds in the Nielsen ratings anytime soon.

That makes it so much harder to get bigger, yet Mr. Gers cites another record breaker: 70 million votes on a single night. The next president of the U.S. should be so lucky.

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