Acura Decides It ‘Better Call Saul’ for Sponsorship

Even a shameless lawyer like Saul Goodman could make a good case that AMC Network’s new series Better Call Saul is highly anticipated, not only by viewers, but by advertisers as well.

Saul is a spinoff of Breaking Bad, one of the shows that established AMC as a home for premium original drama, and stars comedian Bob Odenkirk, who often provided comic relief playing the attorney for Breaking Bad’s increasingly evil Walter White.

Breaking Bad’s ratings grew through its five seasons. Its finale not only drew 10.3 million viewers but set off weeks of discussion. News of a possible spinoff was a hot topic among fans.

Also interested was automaker Acura, which last year took the unusual step of sponsoring a preview of a scene from a show that hadn’t aired yet.

“Since the day we announced we were doing it, Acura has been very interested and wanted this,” says Scott Collins, executive VP for ad sales at AMC.

“Based on AMC’s proven track record and ratings success with Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul was a natural choice for an Acura sponsorship,” says Phil Hruska, manager of national media for Acura. “The writing, directing, cast and level of AMC support should be a recipe for big viewership.”

The series was set to premiere Feb. 8, with Acura having a big presence. AMC created a vignette that shows a sketchy character driving through the New Mexico desert familiar to Breaking Bad fans. With bags of cash in his trunk, he stops his Acura at a pay phone to call his mouthpiece.

That phone in the desert is also part of a key scene from the show, and a centerpiece of its promotional campaign.

The vignette will run in the premiere episode, which is expected to get a big boost from its lead-in, the return of AMC’s monster hit The Walking Dead, the highest-rated series on television.

Collins says sponsors looking for high-profile integrations often focus on finales, but because of the Walking Dead lead-in, Acura targeted the premiere. The vignette will continue to run on the network, promoting the show, as well as online and in video-on-demand.

One might wonder why a luxury auto brand would want to be associated with an ambulance chaser who operates out of a beat-up car.

“I think it’s less about the content and more about the viewer that is attracted to that show. Breaking Bad had a very affluent audience even though it was in the world of crystal meth making,” says Collins. “Very smart people really like smart storytelling and I think that Vince Gilligan [creator of both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul] has proven that he can tell stories with very rich characters and plots that attract a very upscale, educated, affluent audience.”

And a big part of that audience is already invested in the character and the show. “What really makes this sing is that the viewers are so passionate about Saul,” Collins says. “If this content was running in a brand new show that nobody knew anything about, it probably wouldn’t be as impactful. But I think it really is the viewers’ passion that Acura was looking for and I think we really delivered.”

Collins says other advertisers have been drawn to Better Call Saul. The next few episodes are sold out. Some spots are available for scatter. The show runs through second quarter and second quarter scatter sales haven’t started, he says.

Like AMC’s other originals Better Call Saul is generating premium pricing. Collins says CPMs are in the same range as The Walking Dead and unit prices for spots in episodes after the premiere are in the six-figure territory—still rarified air for cable.

Following its premiere, Better Call Saul moves to Mondays. Ratings are likely to be lower. But with originals generating more ad revenue than old movies, opening a new night is important to the network.

“To go with a show with a built-in pedigree, even though it’s brand new, really mitigates the risk,” Collins says. “Opening up a brand new night with this show is the right thing to do.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.