Marketers jump on 'must-see May'

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Marketers are calling it "must-see May," a month of finale episodes-not only for NBC's "Friends"-but also the network's "Frasier"; ABC's "The Practice"; and WB's Buffy spinoff "Angel."

The "Friends" finale has advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch, General Electric Co. and PepsiCola Co. salivating at the prospect of an estimated 50 million viewers gathering for the finale, but not everyone wants to blow an estimated $2.3 million on a 30-second spot. Budget-minded marketers such as pasta marketer Barilla, retailer Target and contact-lens maker CIBA Vision are seeking other ways to tie-in.

"We'll participate in `Friends' for the whole day," said Julie Collins, director-consumer marketing for CIBA Vision, which is skipping the finale on May 6. CIBA bought time in "Friends" in syndication to reach 8.3 million households, as well as the [pre-"Friends"] clip show to reach 29 million households and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," expected to deliver 5.2 million.

going around

"I could deliver a larger average, by delivering the audience all around it for less dollars," she said. Ms. Collins believes she is the only advertiser who's managed to get a deal for all surrounding properties. Once all the fuss over "Friends" is over, CIBA Vision will attempt to capitalize on the next week's final endings for "Frasier" finale and ABC's "The Practice." Following that, CIBA Vision is booked into the season finales of CBS's "Survivor" and ABC's "NYPD Blue." "I call it `must-see May' for Night and Day," she said of CIBA Vision's 2-year-old contact lens product.

WPP Group's Burson-Marsteller is working with Barilla to promote its products via Web site titled, "," which has trivia and final episodes of favorite shows, plus recipe ideas such as "Tearful Tiramisu," "Heartbreak Salad" and "Will she get a ring? Tortellini."

Target Corp. is selling a "Friends" party pack containing a series DVD, a music CD, "Central Perk" coffee, trivia cards and coasters, among other treats. Target promoted the pack in Time Inc.'s Entertainment Weekly and is also donating $1 million to the Red Cross as part of its initiative.

prize territory

Frances Page, principal-strategy and business affairs for Magna Global Entertainment, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., said "Friends" has not traditionally lent itself to promotional stunts since the actors have generally steered clear of endorsements. One exception is a series of 1996 spots for Coca-Cola Co.'s Diet Coke, staring the cast and more recently the Classic Coke pinball spot featuring Courtney Cox Arquette and her husband, David, from Berlin Cameron, part of WPP Group.

"Friends" has also been prize product-placement territory. The May 5 Entertainment Weekly carries an editors' ranking of the most successful placements. No. 1 is the Pottery Barn "Apothecary" table from season six, but others include Nestle Toll House cookies, Toblerone, Barcalounger, Ralph Lauren and Dyson vacuum cleaners.

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