More Marketers Join Magic Johnson's Aspire Channel, Get Big Concessions

Forthcoming Network Gives Charter Sponsors Category Exclusives

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Coca-Cola and Walmart will sponsor the emerging cable channel Aspire in exchange for some rather large and unorthodox concessions: Each advertiser will be the exclusive sponsor in its category for a specific period of time and each will be able to develop programming on the nascent outlet, which aims to entertain and inform a predominantly African-American audience.

Magic Johnson is backing the forthcoming network Aspire.
Magic Johnson is backing the forthcoming network Aspire. Credit: Bloomberg

The marketers join a passel of sponsors from Interpublic Group's Universal McCann -- the Chrysler Group, L'Oreal USA and Nationwide Insurance -- who announced their support of Aspire in April and also gained category exclusivity.

Announcing two new blue-chip marketers in Aspire's sponsor ranks is supposed to spark a feeling of confidence in other potential clients. Coca-Cola and Walmart, after all, are known to be conservative about their ad commitments, and their moves are widely followed and emulated by others.

But the terms to which Aspire is agreeing -- its deals with Coke and Walmart mean the infant operation cannot do any business with PepsiCo, Dr Pepper, Target or Kohl's, for instance -- highlight the demands marketers often make on media startups. In Coca-Cola's case, the sponsorship includes the company's overall portfolio, meaning Aspire will not take ads from rival distributors of waters, teas, and sports drinks for a period of time.

Aspire has incentives to accommodate big, early marketers, such as an approaching launch date of June 27. The network, which is operated by Magic Johnson Enterprises, is one of four channels owned by minorities that Comcast agreed to distribute broadly on its cable systems as it sought government approval to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal.

New or smaller media outlets looking for traction will often allow things that more established media venues would not. CBS does have a pact with General Motors that makes Chevrolet the exclusive auto sponsor on "Hawaii Five-0," but not across the entire network. Young networks, on the other hand, may not even have enough distribution to get the Nielsen ratings that marketers normally use as benchmarks. And networks that haven't begun yet don't have any track record to speak of .

Procter & Gamble's 2010 deal with the still-to-be-launched Oprah Winfrey Network included the ability for P&G to buy integration in future shows. And popular Passover wine Manischewitz in 2005 sponsored a Passover-themed program on VH-1 Classic called "Matzo & Metal," which showed Jewish rock musicians at a Seder table with Manischewitz products atop it.

Aspire has appeal, to be sure. In a world where consumers have a dizzying array of options, marketers are trying to harness the power of outlets that play to concentrated groups of viewers.

"The continued growth of the African-American community in size, buying power and influence on popular culture means that successful marketers must continue to find ways to invest in targeted content platforms," said Tony Rogers, senior VP-marketing, Walmart, in a prepared statement. Spanish-language broadcasters such as Univision have been making similar appeals to advertisers who want to draw in more concentrated audiences of Hispanics.

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