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Disney, WarnerMedia Plan to Woo Upfront Dollars With Special Commercials

Walt Disney will make a big pitch today for billions of dollars in advertising. One of the tools in its arsenal to win commercials? Commercials.

During a glitzy “upfront” presentation Tuesday afternoon at David Geffen Hall in New York’s Lincoln Center before dozens of prominent Madison Avenue executives, Disney will tout new programs on ABC, Freeform, FX and Nat Geo, and talk up sports on ESPN. But it will also run a series of testimonials from big-spending advertisers like Eli Lilly, Google, MillerCoors, Marriott and eBay. “Every time we do something, we don’t know exactly what it is we’re going to get,” says Drew Slaven, the chief marketing officer of Mercedes, in a video touting the automaker’s alliance with ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” “But we are always happy with the result.”

ABC and ESPN have run these sorts of endorsements at upfront gatherings in the recent past, but their use seems to be on the rise. Disney expects to run eight vignettes in all, as part of an upfront pitch that touts all of the company’s TV assets – including FX and National Geographic, which it recently bought from Fox. Disney’s goal is to highlight the way it can tailor interesting ad packages that weave marketers into programs of their choosing, such as an alliance Eli Lilly recently struck with “Good Morning America.” “We have a centralized team in place to specifically serve the clients who ask for this,” says Jerry Daniello, senior vice president of entertainment brand solutions at Disney Advertising Sales.

Meanwhile, AT&T’s WarnerMedia expects to present case studies of how advertisers have utilized its ad offerings when the company makes its presentation to advertisers Wednesday, says Donna Speciale, the company’s president of ad sales. “I have really worked on showing case studies and results. It’s all about results,” says Speciale. “I think clients just want more proof points that the big screen and premium video and linear TV can work.”

The nation’s big TV networks this week are touting their new programming to advertisers as part of TV’s annual upfront market for advance sales of commercial inventory. It’s one thing to make a pitch for new ad dollars. It’s quite another to have a pack of clients who have struck recent deals telling others to open their wallets.

The media companies’ tactics borrow a page from the work of business-to-business advertisers. These companies provide services for other businesses, like consulting, logistics or infrastructure – and a good word from one client can snare the interest of several others. SAP and Oracle are among the companies that have in the past used ads touting the work they do for big-name clients. The more prominent the partner, the bigger the reflected halo on the company selling the services.

In some ways, the TV networks are becoming like consultants to their ad clients. Many of the media outlets this week are promoting their use of consumer data as a means to help sponsors get their commercials in front of the exact right swaths of audience. Disney has over the past two years places new emphasis on its ability to craft unique connections between its shows and the advertisers that want to sponsor them, whether it be a Procter & Gamble-inspired plotline in “black-ish” or a pitch for the Mitsubishi Eclipse placed adjacent to ABC News coverage of an eclipse.

Marriott will tell today’s Disney assemblage about the company’s work to place a pitch for its Bonvoy loyalty program in ABC’s telecast of the Oscars. “Doing this took a partner that could brainstorm and execute with confidence, and importantly generate buzz for our launch,” says Karin Timpone, global marketing officer of Marriott International. Disney executives helped create a special commercial break designed to stand out during the telecast.

Eli Lilly has done work with ABC and Disney for more than a decade, says Lina Shields, senior director- head of media at Lilly USA. The alliances the company has struck with Disney shows has helped create awareness for the conditions some of its pharmaceuticals can treat and has driven its message on social media. The executive says she knows her endorsement will carry some weight at an upfront presentation, but “I don’t mind standing up for them,” she says. “I think they deserve it.”




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