ESPN ABC Sports' Edward Erhardt: "Our automotive clients are some fo the most innovative people whom we deal with."
Edward Erhardt, president of customer marketing and sales for ESPN ABC Sports, spoke to correspondent Laura Clark Geist about the network's role in helping car companies market to sports fans. Erhardt is a former group publisher of Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News.
ESPN was the No. 1 cable channel for automotive last year. What are the keys to your success in the category?
The ESPN brand - because it's not just a TV network, but a brand - resonates so strongly with men. The male target continues to be important, especially for SUVs and trucks that got the most juice, meaning the most money, in the last couple of years. Our franchise is the No. 1 brand to reach men.
Are you making inroads into other vehicle categories, such as luxury cars?
Obviously, we do well in the luxury end, because ESPN is the most affluent and upscale of any of the cable networks that have the kind of size we do. There's been a mantra for many years that reaching young men, especially young affluent men, has been a very difficult task. ESPN has created a portfolio of services and products that meet the desires of sports fans, of whom a higher percentage happens to be men.
What is ESPN's demographic profile?
It's high 30s for age and $75,000 for annual income. The education is very high. When people buy ESPN, they buy a show, like "Sports Center" or football or basketball. The demo and the education level are based on what show it is, as opposed to the entire network.
Where does the automotive category rank in terms of all of your advertising?
It's in the top three. It depends on the year. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Mazda and Kia are significant advertisers.
What are automakers asking of you?
They want breakthrough ideas that help move the metal. Our role is to get as many hand-raisers as we possibly can. If we get the guy in the showroom, it's up to the dealer to sell the car. But if we can increase the amount of hand-raisers who want to test drive and engage in an experience with an automotive client, we've done our job.
All the automotive guys have different goals for different brands at different times. Some might be just brand awareness increase. Some might be brand education. We try to tailor our programs for our automotive clients. We listen very closely and try to address their needs. Our automotive clients are some of the most innovative people whom we deal with.
Can you cite recent examples of marketing programs that you've put together with automotive companies?
We have the Great Outdoor Games with Dodge. We have the Winter X Games with Jeep. General Motors is presenting sponsor of "Baseball Tonight." We involved our (ESPN) cable and dot-com properties in Monday Night Football's 35th anniversary this past year.
How are automakers getting more integrated into the editorial portion of ESPN TV?
Toyota has the halftime report on ESPN's (broadcasts of) NBA basketball. Toyota and Kia have Sunday Night Football on ESPN. Lexus owns the "Tip of the Day" on our ESPN golf coverage. Lexus is a presenting sponsor at our ESPN golf schools, which is a separate business we have at high-end golf courses around the country. Also, Lexus is a big featured element of ESPN.com golf coverage.
Are automakers asking for more product integration?
Yes. We try to make it authentic, to make it feel natural and support both their brand and our brand. We are very conscious of the ESPN brand.
There are dialogues with advertisers in which they may suggest an idea that we feel won't work for us. We just come up with another idea. That's an ongoing thing.
The whole idea of brand integration/product placement is a mutual respect kind of dialogue. The advertisers and the agencies they work with have become sophisticated about what works and what doesn't. The network and the media companies understand that.
Most important, the fan understands it. If you do stuff that insults or takes advantage of the fan's attitude, no amount of product placement is going to sell more cars. It might, in fact, create a detriment.