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Dial, Others Hire The Apprentice

Constantine von Hoffman, Brandweek

DECEMBER 11, 2006 -

NBC will kick off another season of The Apprentice in January with some observers wondering if the Donald Trump vehicle has lost its shine. Viewership has dropped from 18.5 million viewers in May 2004 to 12.8 million in December 2005. Even more distressingly, the show last season lost 41 percent of its 18-to-49-year-old audience versus the previous year, according to MediaVest, New York.

Fortunately for NBC this hasn’t been of great concern to the show’s sponsors, and it remains a favorite product-placement vehicle among marketers. This year, not only will Dial be a first-time sponsor, but it will be the first company to sponsor two episodes of The Apprentice in a single season. This season’s sponsors will also include AdSpace Networks, Adwalker, AMC Entertainment, El Pollo Loco, GNC, The Home Depot, KB Home, Lexus, Priceline.com, Ralphs (a division of supermarket giant Kroger), Sue Bee Honey, Trina Turk and SmartMouth mouthwash.

“We never even thought about the ratings dip,” said Brian Shook, svp and general manager at Dial, Scottsdale, Az. “We were attracted by the results the show delivers.” Shook said the company didn’t intend to buy two episodes until the marketing teams for its new Soft Scrub Deep Clean Foaming Cleanser and Renuzit’s Super Odor Neutralizer each made compelling cases for using the show. “The way we looked at it was what would we have to generate in terms of sales for this to make sense,” said Shook. He said the math worked even at last season’s ratings. “The show was so successful early on that it set the ratings bar pretty high.”

Some analysts feel the show will rebound in the ratings. “The Apprentice seems to adapt very well,” said Brad Adgate, svp-research at Horizon Media, New York. “They were right to rest the show. There were two versions on last fall and none this fall.” Both the show’s producer, Mark Burnett, and Trump, agree the show took a hit in 2004 when it added The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. “Martha was a disaster,” said Trump. Burnett said the drop in viewers is just a reflection of the overall decline for all network shows. “It’s ratings at the end of last season still put it in the top 10 shows on TV,” said Burnett.

For its final episode in December 2005, the show drew a solid 12.8 million viewers with a 5.7 rating/15 share in adults 18-49, per Nielsen Media Research.

“We are surely one of the smaller companies ever to be on the show,” said Susanne Cohen, the CEO and dentist at SmartMouth, St. Louis, which has a staff of 15. “They came to us,” she said, “This was not in our plans.” Trump said SmartMouth was a last minute replacement because NBC vetoed the online poker company that had been scheduled.

Cohen said her company, like all others, paid for its placement. Also, like the others, she declined to say how much. However it happened, she’s glad to be there and agrees with Shook about the experience. “We found these guys to be great partners,” Shook said. “We’re very excited about the upcoming season.”


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