But Gillette is still very big in TV sports. The company spends some $10 million a year. "We're not alone anymore," says Al Leonard. "We're only one of many advertisers on an event. There is no way we could possibly afford to buy an entire major event, or even enough of it to get the product identification we once did."
Times change and, while the fragrance of antiperspirant rises into the sky, Gillette does much of its selling in that nether ground known as prime-time television. These are the dark hours when the largest audiences are staring at the tube and the average cost of commercials is $765 per second. During this period the knobs on Super Spectator's electric connection with the world are essentially controlled by women (at least, that is what advertising geniuses believe). Prime time is when you market shampoo, headache potions, padded brassieres, eye makeup and a boundless stock of creams, pastes, gargles, liquids, goos, glues, tubes, fluids, juices, serums, pulps, puddings, syrups, gels, emulsions, washes and rinses, as well as razors, tonics and deodorants. Many admen scorn the prime-time audience, calling its millions Banana-Eaters, a term that derives from the alltime high ratings of Bonanza, "which is known in the trade as Bananas. One caustic agency executive defines Banana-Eaters as "old men, shut-ins, mitten knitters, Goldwater voters and collie dogs who should know better."
Much of the buying of prime-time commercials is done with a kind of MIRV approach called "scatter planning." This means that a series of commercials for a product is scattered over a nearly random range of time slots, perhaps covering all three networks and eight or nine different shows.
Such an advertising campaign is geared almost totally to quantity. Much of TV sports coverage, on the other hand, is bought with a different rationale in mind—not quantity of audience, but quality. The cost per 1,000—on a household basis—of sports programming is often double that of routine prime-time shows. The aristocratic price scale (as much as $200,000 per minute for the 1970 Super Bowl) scares away many of the impulse packagers but not a somewhat classier kind of advertiser who is anxious to reach a different level of viewer—airlines, insurance companies, banks, AT&T and auto manufacturers, as well as the essentially male products such as oil, gasoline, tires and beer. John DeLorean, general manager of the Chevrolet Division of General Motors, says: "The difference in paying $7 a thousand for sports and under $4 a thousand for Bananas is well worth it to us. You know you're not reaching Maudie Frickert. You're reaching men, the guys who make the decision to buy a car. Another major factor is that most of our dealers are sports fans. We feel that it is almost as important to get our message to them as to our customers."
It is a competitor of DeLorean's, the Chrysler Corporation, that has replaced Gillette as the champion of sports advertisers. Chrysler spent $12.5 million last year to sell Chargers and Challengers and Barracudas and Darts and Imperials within the purview of sports. So important is Chrysler money to TV sport that Dick Forbes, the corporation's advertising director, has become something of a sports celebrity himself. During the 1969 World Series he was introduced and pictured on NBC television; he shared a box with former Chief Justice Earl Warren, NBC President Julian Goodman and Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Last summer, when the NBC Game of the Week was televised from the stadium of the Minnesota Twins, the director was appalled to learn that the Twins customarily used a Mustang to ferry relief pitchers in from the bullpen. He insisted that the Mustang not be used while NBC-TV was there. "Dick Forbes has contributed too much to sports to be embarrassed by seeing a competitor's car on his telecast," said the director. Relief pitchers walked that day.
In 1968, at the time of NBC's cataclysmic gaffe in the name of Heidi, the first person that NBC Sports Vice-President Carl Lindemann Jr. called in the chaotic moments after the little goat girl shut out the Jets was—yes—Dick Forbes. After Lindemann's unstinting apologies, Forbes exploded: "Carl, you know we always go to completion. It's in the damned contract that we never interrupt an event. Carl, dammit, I hate to say it, but you have handled this situation like an amateur!" And Lindemann continued to apologize....
A genial, good-natured fellow—without a Heidi crisis at hand—Dick Forbes would never encourage the idea that he be treated with obsequious concern or velvet care. But the money he spends does help support a broad spectrum of sport—including the Game of the Week, the World Series, the Rose Bowl, the entire AFL and the Bob Hope Desert Classic. Assuredly, there is a margin of gratefulness to Dick Forbes all the way from Broadcast Row to Irv Schumacher's Morristown bar. Yet Forbes is irked at any suggestion that his $12.5 million could be construed as a contribution to the advancement of sport. "Maybe we help keep baseball alive and football healthier," he says, "but we would never consider it if it were not a sound business proposition, a sensible investment. Sport offers Chrysler a selective audience of males. We can reach the 18-to-49 age group, the family-oriented man, the young-minded man. There is prestige for Chrysler in having the product associated with these events. Sport is a splendid environment for our commercials, because when a man is going to buy a big-ticket item like a car, he wants to know that he is dealing with a prestige company. Sport is a wholesome, clean, healthy setting for our product. There is no serious controversy involved, no dissent. I would rather have my commercials follow Curt Gowdy than Huntley-Brinkley. And that is why we are in sport."
Chrysler has been investing heavily in TV sports since 1961. It was one of the first advertisers on the AFL and was instrumental in giving the new league a lease on life. "It was embarrassing for us to be associated with the AFL in some of those awful early games," says Forbes. "But we had the guts to stay with it. Naturally, it did us no good at all in markets like Chicago and Los Angeles, but we were the hottest ticket of all in towns like Kansas City and Oakland. Our dealers were ecstatic. What merchandising we were able to work out then! Players visiting the dealerships and other tie-ins. Yes, we were pretty sure the AFL would make it eventually. The owners were young and wealthy. It was just a matter of time."
The AFL contract is now among the most valuable in sports. Chevrolet's DeLorean would dearly like to get some commercials on either the NFL or the AFL telecasts but believes there is no way. "Chrysler's got one league sewed up, and Ford owns the other," he says. "So we're doing the best we can with college football and golf and the rest of the stuff."
Significantly, the sales volume at Chrysler has climbed in the years the firm has advertised with sports. At least this seems significant, but there are few certainties in advertising, few verities. "The resurgence of Chrysler has come in the years since we've bought a lot of sports," says Forbes. "But who can say that is the reason? In this business, finding any definite correlation between advertising and sales results is our Holy Grail. We have no precise way to relate the impact of an ad campaign to how much we sell. There are too many variables."