The holidays are the Hallmark channels’ favorite season, and the networks recently found something new under a very special tree.
Crown Media Family Networks, which runs Hallmark Channel and its sibling Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, this year made a deal with the National Parks Foundation to televise the National Christmas Tree lighting from the South Lawn of the White House. The event had previously aired on noncommercial PBS stations.
Iconic Maine apparel company L.L. Bean has signed on as the marquee sponsor for the tree lighting special, which will air Dec. 5 and feature Barack and Michelle Obama along with musical headliners including Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor.
A big feature making Hallmark attractive to both the National Parks Foundation and L.L. Bean was Hallmark’s plan to eliminate about 60% of the commercial time.
“We want to make sure the viewing experience is positive and give our key sponsor a position that is really significant,” said Ed Georger, Crown Media executive VP for ad sales.
Reducing the number of commercials in a show is not just a holiday season gift for viewers. With more marketers increasing their spending on digital advertising, media companies are cutting the ad loads on TV networks and shows. Time Warner has reduced the ad load on its truTV network, 21st Century Fox has limited commercial interruption on popular shows such as Empire and is cutting back on National Geographic, and NBC is running fewer commercials on Saturday Night Live.
The concept is also popular with advertisers.
The fact that Hallmark’s tree lighting will have “limited interruptions has a higher value in the sense that we’re not competing with a lot of different brands within that program,” said Chuck Gannon, manager of corporate advertising for L.L Bean.
But that’s not the only advantage L.L. Bean saw in the tie-in.
“This just seemed to be a great fit for both brands,” Gannon said. “Obviously it’s a peak time of year for us from a retail perspective and being top of mind for consumers. We’re a brand that supports the holidays and supports family fun and the outdoors, and that’s exactly what this event is.”
In addition to running commercials, L.L. Bean expects to be represented during the show, with its apparel being worn by members of the on-air audiences as well as some of the event participants.
“It looks pretty exciting, and we’ll have the opportunity to get some brand exposure within the programming with some outfitting opportunities,” Gannon said. He asked if the first family could be outfitted in Bean apparel, but that wasn’t part of the deal. “Maybe they’ll have it on by chance,” he added hopefully.
Both Feet In
L.L. Bean is also planning to have its Bootmobile, a Ford F250 covered with a 13-foottall Bean boot, in Washington.
Last year L.L. Bean did only local advertising, and in the past it hasn’t been a big Hallmark sponsor. This year, it selected broadcast and cable network ads in about eight local markets. Bean’s holiday season campaign launched in late October and will run through Christmas.
Gannon said that Hallmark, with its holiday themes, would have been one of the networks on L.L. Bean’s schedule, but when its media agency, MullenLowe Mediahub, brought the tree lighting opportunity to it, that became the bow on the giftwrapping.
Gannon declined to say how much L.L. Bean was spending on the campaign.
Hallmark’s Georger said that details were still being worked out on how L.L. Bean will be woven into the 94-year-old ceremony and into the event. “It’s special. It’s unique. It’s good for our brand and for their brand. We’re very proud of the association with this national event,” he said.
Hallmark will also be promoting the tree lighting and L.L. Bean during its daytime Home and Family show.
The Hallmark Networks have already started airing holiday programming 24-7. Hallmark Channel will be airing 19 original first-run movies and another seven will run on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. The season ends with coverage of the Rose Parade on Jan. 1.
On its first weekend of holiday programming Hallmark was No. 1 in delivery of women 25-54 and outpaced its previous efforts.
The fourth quarter is Hallmark’s biggest for ad revenue. A year ago it was up 21% to $134 million. “We’re off to a really strong start,” Georger said.