Prime-time dramas net premium viewers

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While prime-time broadcast network TV may not be the most targeted venue for b-to-b companies, advertising on the hottest shows watched by many top executives—be they

C-level management or IT professionals—separates them from the pack as top brands, industry observers say.

Prime time raises the overall visibility and awareness of a company and brand, said Marc Goldstein, president-national broadcast and programming at MindShare USA, a unit of WPP Group Inc. "It [lets the brand] be seen in a much different light," he said. Goldstein also said that advertising during highly rated prime-time properties gives the brand a strong mental profile among viewers, "with mindshare to follow."

Many of the top b-to-b players are devoting more of their ad dollars to the major networks—ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox—which still draw a critical mass of eyeballs despite market share erosion from their cable cousins. IBM Corp., for example runs ads regularly on NBC’s "Law and Order," "West Wing" and "ER," as well as Fox’s "The X-Files," reaching for both business execs and IT staffers.

"We believe we get good penetration from those shows," said John Bukovinksy, an IBM spokesman. "They target what’s called the ‘line of business,’ which is not only IT executives but also marketing and manufacturing decision-makers."

AT&T Corp. is another major b-to-b advertiser during prime time, regularly buying space on shows with broad appeal and key demographics, such as "West Wing" and ABC’s seemingly ubiquituous "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire."

Jane Deery, executive VP-managing director in the Boston office of Carat Freeman Inc., said, "C-level executives don’t watch a lot of TV. But when they do, it’s by appointment. … [Prime time] is a great way to build brand because it reaches more people than any other medium."

Still, Tyler Schaeffer, senior VP-director of media planning for Foote Cone Belding Worldwide, New York, whose clients include Compaq Computer Corp., Samsung Corp. and Avaya Communications Inc., said that with a weak economy now putting the squeeze on ad budgets, marketers must be extremely careful when targeting network prime time. "Prime time is about business news, information and sports," he said. "As a general rule of thumb it helps if the company creates its own prime-time segmentation."

Schaeffer said the agency is considering a buy on an upcoming ABC prime-time, reality-based program, "The Runner," one of the slew of shows capitalizing on the surprise success of CBS’ "Survivor" series. "We’re always looking at new opportunities, especially programs that allow us to push products and are technologically oriented," he said.

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