Survivor, the much heralded 'reality TV' gameshow, faced a reality
check itself this week when it remained sponsorless just two days before
the first episode was due to air.
The last-minute arrival of Macleans Complete Care, the
GlaxoSmithKline-owned toothpaste brand, will have put a smile back on
the faces of the ITV executives who had confidently spent the past few
months hyping the arrival of the show.
It is also a brave move - and that's meant in a good way - by Macleans.
The brand has stepped in where others feared to tread, committing a
hefty chunk of budget while many advertisers chose to remain
risk-adverse in a flat market. The sponsorship, GSK's biggest ever,
could turn out to be the deal of the summer, as reality TV returns to
our TV screens with a vengeance.
Survivor will go head-to-head with the second series of Big Brother,
which begins on Channel 4 on May 26. The reality TV genre has proved a
success and the schedules are now more cluttered with me-too versions
that have failed to deliver the anticipation or the audiences of the
first-generation shows (Analysis, page 18 to 19).
The risk that Macleans has chosen to take is that audiences may return
to the tested format of Big Brother. On the other hand, figures from
Media Planning show that in Spain and the Netherlands, where two series
of the show have already run, audience ratings fell by 20% and 25% on
the first series. In this context the fresh offering of Survivor, which
has already been a storming success in the US, is more likely to achieve
the status of 'talked-about TV'.
Whatever the final outcome, ITV has every right to be disgruntled at
advertisers' anticipation of the show. Carlton could have sold the
sponsorship better, giving more details of content and broadcast times,
but the fact is that ITV has achieved success with Who Wants To Be A
Millionaire and delivered a 50% share of the 18- to 24-year-old audience
With this record there is no reason to suspect Survivor will be anything
other than another pearl in ITV's 'event TV' portfolio - and still the
potential sponsors stayed away.
There is still the possibility of buying in to the ad breaks of
whichever reality show turns out to be the most popular - and that is
undeniably the safer option. But the real success stories are those that
take a gamble and win: Southern Comfort spent a mere pounds 1m
sponsoring the first series of Big Brother; T&T went from being a barely
known soft drinks producer, to achieving 48% spontaneous brand awareness
after backing Popstars.
Macleans deserves to repeat the success of these sponsors - for being
creative and committed to building its brand where others are just being