BET Awards hit record ad sales as brands look to connect with Black audiences
After a depressed award season delivered blow after blow to long-valued ratings earlier this year, the BET Awards have shaped up to be a relatively hot commodity among advertisers, with the event celebrating Black entertainment selling out of commercial inventory faster than ever—even with more ad slots to fill.
This comes as brands have been re-examining their reach among diverse audiences over the past year with a critical lens. Following the police murder of George Floyd and subsequent attention turned to social justice and racial equity in the U.S., advertisers have made commitments to ending systemic racism, ranging from monetary donations to minority-led groups to retooling ad strategies to better encompass multicultural channels.
Louis Carr, president of media sales at BET Networks, believes brands “really understand” the importance of speaking directly to Black audiences in 2021 in a targeted, meaningful way, offering a partial explanation for advertisers’ newfound interest in the BET Awards. “They want to be ‘part of the family,’” he says.
“This will be our highest-grossing revenue BET Awards, or as we call it, the Black Super Bowl. And clearly, clients lined up like it was,” Carr says.
Ad inventory for this year’s BET Awards, which will air on Sunday, sold out in record time, Carr says, with the original slate of airtime completely gone by mid-May. “We usually wouldn’t sell out of our inventory until late June” in a pre-pandemic schedule, he adds, with ad units historically being available until the week of the award show.
Tremendous demand from artists who expressed interest in performing in the annual award ceremony forced BET to extend the three-hour program’s length by half an hour to accommodate a star-studded line-up of artists that includes Migos, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Nas X, H.E.R., Tyler, the Creator and more.
But even the ad inventory that came with another 30 minutes of programming was quickly snapped up by eager advertisers, with Carr confirming that the extended-length BET Awards are 100% sold out of ad units as of earlier this week.
Several long-time BET advertisers will return this year, many with “extended inventory buys and integrations,” Carr says.
Those brands include Procter & Gamble, the biggest advertiser of the night, with multiple spots tied to its “Widen the Screen” campaign; Unilever with a spot in support of the CROWN Act, a proposed law to ban racial hair-based discrimination; Nissan with a campaign that focuses on hip-hop’s next generation; and Walmart, which is highlighting a partnership with award-winning artist Andra Day.
The BET Awards also have 10 first-time advertisers appearing during this year’s event—double what the program normally draws. Red Bull, LinkedIn, the National Basketball Association, Adobe and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among the 2021 class of rookie advertisers.
Interest in the BET Awards from marketers and consumers alike has been uncharacteristically strong in a year that has not been kind to such TV ceremonies. In 2021, the Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes all tumbled to record-low viewership figures, while other live tentpole events, such as the Super Bowl, also grappled with depressed ratings.
BET is not too worried about the numbers that Nielsen will deliver following Sunday night’s program, though.
“Ratings are always a concern,” Carr concedes. “But we’re always hopeful. Most of our advertisers did not raise the concern; they believe in the brand. They thought that we had the best award show in 2020 from a virtual standpoint.”
Carr declined to share specifics in terms of inventory pricing for this year’s ceremony, but confirmed that it will be the “highest cost” BET Awards for advertisers to date.
“This show will probably also have the most integrated and branded content,” he adds. “It sort of makes the messages a little seamless but also connected to Black culture and everything the show stands for."