'Dr. Phil' stays true to image

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He isn't broken: Don't fix him.

That was the unspoken marketing message behind the successful September launch of daytime darling Dr. Phil McGraw.

"Dr. Phil" premiered Sept. 16 to a 5.3 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, and settled into the mid-fours shortly thereafter. It's done so well that its distributor, King World Productions, has raised the price for the show 75% over its price during the upfront selling season, according to executives familiar with the matter (AA, Oct. 21). A 30-second spot on "Dr. Phil," which cost $20,000 in the upfront market, now sells for $35,000.

"It took years for a talk show to come out and click with audiences like he has," says Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP-director of broadcast research for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, North America, New York.

Months before the "Dr. Phil" debut, Viacom's Paramount Domestic Television nailed down a strategically timed marketing plan that was less about what to do than what not to do. The goal was not to tamper with the trusted brand that psychologist Phil McGraw had become over four years on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" as a weekly no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is self-help guru.

blunt answers

"The thing that struck us was we could not do something with him that did not represent what people already knew about him," says Michael Mischler, exec VP-marketing for Paramount Domestic TV. Maintaining the loyalty of the "Oprah" viewers who had already logged couch hours with America's therapist was essential to the success of the transition to Dr. Phil's solo TV practice. "You will get a straight, honest, blunt answer from him," says Mr. Mischler, who describes Dr. Phil as the "real deal," something that echoes in the show's marketing slogan "Get ready to get real."

Dr. Phil's face popped up on billboards in 19 of the 50 largest U.S. markets, including Los Angeles, Miami and New York. Paramount devised a four-phase promotional strategy that began in June and included spots, created by Dentsu's Colby & Partners, Santa Monica, Calif., showing Dr. Phil talking to real people.

Paramount Domestic TV had to convince viewers that Dr. Phil could fly solo, says Greg Meidel, president-programming. "After the first couple of shows, you don't even know [Ms. Winfrey] isn't there," he says. "Dr. Phil" has broadened topics from relationships to headlines, medical issues and family concerns, says Terry Wood, senior VP-programming.

could surpass oprah

Just a month after Dr. Phil's debut, there's talk that he could surpass his mentor's popularity. Ms. Koerner of Initiative Media says it's possible, adding that 34%-35% of his show reaches a similar group of 18-to-49-year-old women. "Oprah's" ratings were lagging when Dr. Phil joined four years ago as her regular Tuesday guest. His presence provided a boost for her show, Ms. Koerner says.

While Dr. Phil no longer makes weekly calls on "Oprah," his show's producers say his program is meant to complement hers. And her ratings are still holding strong. During its debut week, "Dr. Phil" earned a household rating of 4.4, compared with a 6.0 for "Oprah," according to Nielsen.

The show's advertisers include Clorox Co., Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble Co., Sara Lee Corp. and Unilever. King World was effective in promoting the show and establishing the connection with "Oprah," when talking to advertisers and agencies, says Chris Geraci, director of national TV buying at Omnicom Group's OMD USA, New York. "Knowing the exposure and promotion it would get, you would be foolish to think it wouldn't get sampled," Mr. Geraci says. He would not name specific clients, but did say that he has placed buys for package-goods advertisers on the show. "Common sense will tell you it will do a strong female older-skewing number. The fact that it's doing very well makes it more attractive."

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