Would You Hand Your Brand to Jimmy Kimmel?

GM, Others Like the Integration Deals Comedian Brings to Late-Night TV

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NEW YORK -- When it comes to late night, media buyers have been decidedly ho-hum about the daypart. The 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. time slot has seen audience erosion in recent years and viewers tend to come and go without much loyalty. "I can guarantee you that our competitors, if not losing money, are feeling a huge pinch" in late night, NBC's entertainment president, Kevin Reilly, said at a press event in January.

'Uncle Frank' and Guillermo in spoof spot on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' for the Solstice GXP.

One competitor, however, is out selling its product aggressively. ABC has been touting a 9% increase in total viewers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" season to date, against declines at rival late-night shows. While the Walt Disney-owned network won't comment on the show's profitability, it is working hard to bring in every last dime. According to TNS Media Intelligence "Jimmy Kimmel Live" took in $12.8 million in January 2007 compared with $10.9 million in January 2006.

Spoof spots for brands
In recent months, the ABC sales team has completed deals to create what are essentially spoof ads during the show. General Motors' Pontiac division was featured in one tongue-in-cheek spot that involved recurring characters on the show, Mr. Kimmel's "Uncle Frank" (real-life uncle Frank Potenza) and security guard Guillermo Rodriguez, riding around Hollywood's celebrity neighborhoods while jumping fences in search of a bathroom and discussing the Pontiac Solstice GXP's characteristics.

In another show hosted from a Santa Monica bus, Mr. Kimmel made a pit-stop at KFC for some chicken while picking up ordinary folks along with celebrities. Other brands such as Samsung's Black Jack phone and search firm Ask.com have also received prominent mentions.

ABC believes it is offering something unique, said Doug Hochstadt, the network's VP-late night: "We seem to have hit a formula for doing integrations. The thing about these integrations is we are putting the cast in the show and they're seamless and delivering on every copy point."

Laughs at the upfront
ABC has also been working hard to give Mr. Kimmel, who does an annual comedy set at the network's upfront presentation, a wider audience. He also appears in weekly segments during the results-show portion of "Dancing With the Stars," which is taped just down the hall from his set. (At ABC's upfront presentations last week, Mr. Kimmel riffed on brand integration: "2007 should prove to be the biggest year for product placement. We've got the Geico cavemen. And the 'Grey's Anatomy' spin-off was going to be called Grey's Poupon," he said. "One person watching this 'Cavemen' thing very closely is Jared from Subway, cause if this thing takes off, there's still a glimmer of hope for him and his giant pants.")

Chris Robichaud, president of marketing and PR firm Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, has helped put together several ongoing integration deals between marketers and "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Bragman Nyman, which also represents Mr. Kimmel, raised the money for the talk-show host to take his show on tour when ABC broadcast the Super Bowl in 2006, demonstrating the network's openness to nontraditional deal making.

"We helped raise the money and brought in sponsors. If the show was going to travel it needed to have an exponential budget," Mr. Robichaud said.

The agency created an events space in Detroit, where Super Bowl XL was held, and brought in Pontiac, Sony PlayStation, Comcast and Coors Brewing. "Brands were woven into the decor of the show," said Mr. Robichaud, adding the marketers also received on-air mentions. More recently, the agency helped connect Samsung's Black Jack phone campaign to the network and the show.

Late night as conversation starter
Mr. Robichaud said he thought late night was a hot place for advertisers because "it's the driver of what's happening in the culture." He said the morning shows and news programs frequently use of clips from late-night talk-show hosts.

When asked whether all advertisers have the stomach for putting brand messaging in the hands of comics, ABC's Mr. Hochstadt said: "Either you [marketers] get it or you don't. If you trust the show it will definitely be memorable and then the day after it's on YouTube. It's like a second life."

While Kimmel's ratings are still small compared to prime time and heavyweights such as the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Late Night With David Letterman," Mr. Hochstadt said: "The growth in late night has been tepid and these things go in cycles. We're seeing resurgence -- we are the only late-night talk show to show ratings increases."

Mr. Kimmel is one of the younger hosts on the late-night circuit, compared to Craig Ferguson ("Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson"), Conan O'Brien ("Late Night With Conan O'Brien) and the daypart's elder statesmen, Jay Leno and David Letterman. "Jimmy Kimmel Live" began in February 2003 after Mr. Kimmel's stints on radio and on Comedy Central's "The Man Show." The show's airing straddles that of the other late-night entrants, airing at 12:05 a.m. Eastern time, coming after the 11:35 p.m. start times for Leno, Letterman and ABC's "Nightline" and before the late-late show broadcasts.

Needs more unique integrations
Bill McOwen, exec-VP director, media investments, MPG, said his agency once did a highly successful integration spoof commercial for the VW Toureg brand on the Kimmel show.

"It was really funny. We couldn't have been more pleased. Late night needs to do more of that [unique product integrations]. The daypart is waning and it's not a very sticky audience at that hour. The daypart needs to be smarter and offer to clients more opportunities to create an impact."

He added: "There's a lot of equity with the late-night hosts and I don't think they [the networks] have managed to leverage that. 'Letterman' has always been a closed door and maybe always will be."
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