For auto, plum shows will set spending tone

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Several automakers are likely to hold back some ad dollars from this spring's upfronts for initiatives later in the year, predicts Mark Kaline, global media manager of Ford Motor Co., though declining to say whether Ford would be one of them.

During last year's upfront selling season, Ford spent 30% less across its brands-Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mazda, in which it has a controlling interest. But earlier this year, Ford spent some $75 million in the scatter market that returned it to normal levels (AA, Feb. 4).

Of the $1.2 billion Ford spent last year in measured media, $305 million was on broadcast TV networks plus $113 million on cable networks, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. In 2000, Ford spent $1.15 billion, with $290 million on broadcast networks and $113 million on cable networks.

Peggy Green, president of national broadcast for Zenith Media Services, New York, jointly owned by Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis Groupe, believes her auto clients at Toyota Motor Sales USA "will move with the [upfront] market."

OPT TO WAIT

"Other people in the auto industry are not in a position to do that and will wait," she predicts. "It's not because [those other carmakers] want to buy scatter. It's because they're not in the position to spend the money [now in the upfronts]." Ms. Green didn't discuss which auto advertisers those would be.

General Motors Corp.'s Mike Browner, executive director of media and marketing operations, declines comment on whether the automaker will hold back in the upfronts. He does expect GM to remain the nation's largest advertiser in 2002. GM spent $2.1 billion in measured media last year, with $661 million in broadcast TV networks and $249 million on cable networks, according to CMR. In 2000, of the $2.8 billion GM spent in measured media, $965 million was on broadcast networks and $281 million on cable networks.

Mr. Browner predicts the upfronts will wrap up quicker than last year's, which dragged on into midsummer. He sees neither significant boosts in prices nor in auto spending, a view Ford's Mr. Kaline shares.

Mr. Kaline says the auto industry generally has a "greater deal of overall confidence going into this year's upfront," though he's unsure how that will translate into actual spending.

GM's general media blueprint for the year is in place. Still, Mr. Browner is waiting to see what the broadcast networks' full schedules will be to replace the comedies that got the ax. "A lot of comedy is in development at the networks, and we all know [Fox's] `Ally McBeal' is going away."

When it comes to the upfront season, auto marketers compete in "a marketplace within a marketplace," says Mr. Kaline. That's because within commercial pods in a network program, only one can be automotive. "Generally speaking, in most cases, we and our competitors are after the same programming," he says. The programs tend to be the top-rated shows.

On the cable side, Ford prefers well-branded networks, including Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and Discovery Communications' Discovery Channel, because they tend to draw upscale audiences and weather the market's ups and downs, he says. Ford won't be much of a player again in reality TV shows, Mr. Kaline adds.

Steve Sturm, VP-marketing for Toyota Motor's Toyota brand, says the marketer hasn't "locked and loaded its fall schedules yet." But both Toyota and its upscale Lexus brand typically prefer the top 10 shows on broadcast networks, like "The West Wing" and "ER" on General Electric Co.'s NBC.

DOLLAR SHIFT

CMR reports that of the $755 million that Toyota and Lexus combined spent in measured media last year, $197 million was on broadcast TV networks and $85 million on cable networks. In 2000, the automaker spent $241 on broadcast networks and $79 million on cable networks out of a total $789 million.

This year for the first time, the sports sales divisions of Disney's ESPN and sibling ABC are "talking as one" to advertisers, Mr. Sturm says. "The point is you have to want the package." Since Toyota bought National Basketball Association regular-season games on NBC this year, Mr. Sturm wonders whether the league's move to ABC next fall will affect pricing and packaging. New packaging opportunities may come from ABC and ESPN both telecasting NBA games; NBC had no cable partner for its basketball broadcasts.

Also, he doesn't expect big cross-platform TV packages from AOL Time Warner in the upfront. "If you feel you can sell it separately in the upfront," Mr. Sturm notes, "why would you want to wholesale it in a package?"

Ms. Green says the broadcast networks know automakers require a presence in fall shows for traditional new model-year launches. But she says that unlike just a few years ago, when rates climbed year-to-year, the networks are working as more of a partner with automakers than as an adversary.

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