A recent report on TV industry diversity by Entertainment Weekly showed that the cumulative casts of each of the five broadcast networks are made up of more Caucasians than the U.S. population, which was 66.2% white, according to the U.S. Census' July 2007 survey. That leaves the 12.9% African-American portion of the population largely underserved by networks such as NBC (11.8% black), ABC (9.4%) and CBS (9%). Even the CW, which finished the season with by far the largest percentage of black characters on broadcast TV (26.9% black vs. 67.4% white), will enter the 2008-09 TV season without its long-running hit sitcom "Girlfriends," and with African-American-targeted sitcoms "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Game" now relegated to Fridays. Marketers wanting to reach black audiences on broadcast television are left with broadly targeted dramas such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI," and with pockets of cable shows on networks like TBS ("House of Payne") and VH1 ("Flavor of Love") to pick up the slack.
"The landscape is shrinking, so we have to throw a wider net," said Jeff Robey, associate media director for Tapestry, the multicultural media-buying unit of Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group.
Finding other cable opportunities beyond BET and TV One has been tricky, he added, especially for family-focused clients such as Disney and Allstate. Lately Mr. Robey's group has been turning to Nick at Nite's sitcom reruns and even syndication for some of those opportunities. Trying to aggregate scale on broadcast these days, "within African-American budgets, it might be a challenge to make those happen."
Added Louis Carr, BET's president-media sales, "The BET Awards are the biggest opportunity for marketers to really send out direct invitations to African-American families, through the biggest event that will touch them throughout the year. Whether it's kids to grandparents, it's a real opportunity for advertisers to come across to them in a unique and special way."
That's why the BET Awards have become increasingly crucial to marketers and media buyers looking to launch products geared toward the African-American audience. P&G, for example, is using the show as one of the first major media efforts behind its "My Black Is Beautiful" initiative, which is focused on promoting its Olay, CoverGirl, Pantene and Crest brands among young black females. The company is currently hosting an online contest, to be woven throughout the next week's awards show, to present three customized "Black Is Beautiful" awards to the celebrities voted by viewers as having the most "Beautiful Hair," "Beautiful Smile" and "Beautiful Face," each customized to the corresponding P&G brand.
Also using the awards to plug new product are Target, which will sponsor its own Targetcam coverage of the pre-awards show; Dodge, which will use its sponsorship of the BET Networks Celebrity Billiards Tournament and the BET Awards Red Carpet Event to plug its all-new 2009 Dodge Journey and the all-new 2009 Dodge Challenger; and Ford Motor Co., which will unveil its 2009 Ford Flex by providing special concierge car service to celebrities and BET talent during the awards' after-party and post-show coverage. Other sponsors include Ciroc Vodka, with the brand's marketing chief P. Diddy acting as master of ceremonies for the after-party; Coors, co-sponsor of the Billiards Tournament; Pepsi, whose DJ Division will sponsor four on-air vignettes of BET Awards nominees; Verizon Wireless, sponsor of its own Viewers' Choice Award Poll and My First BET Awards micro-series (this year's profilee is "Low" rapper Flo Rida); and Akademiks, the exclusive outfitter of the cast of "Baldwin Hills."
Driving web traffic
Even Microsoft is getting a piece of this year's show, as part of BET parent company Viacom's broader marketing partnership with Microsoft online and on-air. Both MSN.com and BET.com will be driving tune-in awareness to the show and hosting online events leading up to the air date. Mr. Carr said the BET Awards have historically been the strongest traffic driver to BET.com, so an opportunity presented itself to share some of that audience with MSN, which wouldn't otherwise draw much dedicated traffic from African-American audiences.
"One of the things the awards does is it continues to give us light viewers, to medium viewers, to people who may only watch BET during this time of year," he said.
Alvin Bowles, head of BET's integrated-marketing group, said that although the show's many sponsorships aren't category-exclusive across all the different programming before, during and after the awards, it was important to respect the opportunities each marketer bought for each property. "At some point you dilute the experience. We want to help support the brand and give ancillary experiences. We want viewers to touch and feel the essence of the brand."