Most people don’t think of late-night host Jimmy Kimmel as a celebrity pitchman, but he doesn’t mind if some do.
Among the current post-Carson generation of TV’s late-night hosts, Kimmel was among the earliest to embrace the concept of going the extra mile for certain advertisers by doing sketches and other funny stuff in his show about them. He says he was inspired to do it by a fictional counterpart.
Early in his tenure on ABC, well before “Jimmy Kimmel Live” moved to 11:35 p.m., Kimmel was taking in an episode of “The Larry Sanders Show,” the HBO mockumentary featuring Garry Shandling as a struggling late-night comedian, and caught a segment in which Sanders was prompted to do an ad for the “Garden Weasel,” that multipurpose garden tool that was once all the rage on direct-response TV ads. “They forced him to do it and it turned out to be funny,” Kimmel recalled in an interview with Variety on Sunday. At the time, he said, he had been worried that he might have to let go of some producers due to financial issues at the network, and Sanders’ embrace of the concept gave him an idea. “It was interesting. I felt like maybe it was a sign.”
Since that time, Kimmel has baked ads for everything from KFC to the allergy medication Xyzal into his program. And this week, while he’s holding forth in Brooklyn for a special week of broadcasts, he and his staff are weaving in ads for Bank of America and Google Home, among other sponsors, into the show. Wednesday’s broadcast will feature a segment aimed at promoting Diageo’s Smirnoff vodka. Kimmel will lob silly questions at Brooklyn bartenders while featuring Smirnoff on camera.
Diageo has appeared during each of Kimmel’s three Brooklyn runs, said Dan Sanborn, senior vice president of culture and partnerships for the alcohol marketer. For many advertisers, “there’s a shift from disrupting and interrupting to understanding how to seamlessly integrate your brand into culture,” he said. “It’s increasingly important for brands to rely on good content that people actually want to view.”
ABC worked to give advertisers more of a presence in this week’s broadcasts without overwhelming the program, said Debra O’Connell, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Disney ABC Television. The show is featuring an integration each night of this week’s run. Each placement in “Jimmy Kimmel Live” was tailored to the specific sponsor, she said. “It’s not cookie-cutter.”
For Kimmel, doing the in-show ads helps his program recoup some of its production costs. “With the show in Brooklyn, we do more integrations, because it’s very expensive to travel,” Kimmel explained. “I think it costs more than $1 million a show. It’s a lot for us. We do need to pump that up.”
But he also thinks his viewers would rather watch him, or sidekicks like Guillermo or Cousin Sal, do an ad than see the same old thing in the usual 30-second format. “If I have a choice between a pre-produced commercial that was done the same way they’ve been done forever, and maybe doing something that might be funny on top of being a commercial, we should try that,” Kimmel said. “Some things are better than another, but I do think viewers would be more interested in Guillermo doing a commercial than some random stranger.”