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History's Dubuc on Why Super Bowl Buy Made Sense for 'Swamp People'

During Super Bowl XLVI, History had its own version of the Big Game when it premiered its first national Super Bowl commercial promoting Swamp People, which returns for its third season on Thursday, Feb. 9.

The day before, the network also ran a spot for new series Full Metal Jousting during the pay-per-view broadcast of an Ultimate Fighting Championship event on Saturday, underscoring the importance of live sporting events to targeting the History audience.

Nancy Dubuc, president and general manager of History, talked to B&C about the strategy behind those two spots, how they'll measure the return on investment for the pricey Super Bowl ad, and what other big events they are eying for future buys.

Tell me about why you did those buys in the Super Bowl and UFC.

We're obviously a male dominated network; it's nice for us to be able to be very targeted and be launching these shows in an environment where two of the bigger male viewership events are happening was a perfect springboard off of. We're not a stranger to the Super Bowl, we've bought it in local markets many years in a row. This is the upcoming third season of Swamp People and we've seen a continuous growth in the show from season one to season two and even within the seasons from episode to episode, so it's telling me that there's a lot of juice in it and we really felt like, as the ad says, "no guts, no gator," we had to go for it too. We did a tremendous amount of analysis, and not only did it make sense it terms of its reach for men but also you get the added bonus of sometimes the commercials get just as much attention as the game. There's added value from a publicity standpoint and a brand position standpoint that we were willing to step up to the plate and do something big.

Jousting is positioned as an extreme sport for us, the original extreme sport, so UFC just is a very easy segue from a brand an environment standpoint especially in the demographic of men that we're talking to between the ages of 18 and 49. In some ways we were just lucky that these events were coinciding with the launch of the new shows in February. But they really provided us with an amazing platform to jump off of and one in which the guys had to be fairly engaged with the content throughout.

What has the reaction been to the spots?

We've had an amazing reaction; we were covered in all the roundups -- USA TodayChicago Tribune. All of them have been a thumbs-up; Ad Age gave us three and a half stars. What's particularly rewarding about it is we didn't do this in collaboration with a big-time agency; we did this in-house. Which just further proves that we understand our audience and we understand our brand in a way that really shines creatively. Last night Swamp People was trending second only to Eli Manning after the game. That's pretty profound.

Going into this, how were you looking to measure the success of the spot?

You know, we're going to measure it after Thursday. So far, so good, we're thrilled with the attention the ad is getting. Incredibly proud of the team, our placement couldn't have been better and a little it of that is luck of the game so to speak, but we were right after the two-minute warning and as you know it was a nail-biter. And so I think that was not going to be a bathroom break. We're really thrilled with the experience of working with the team involved in the Super Bowl, thrilled with the exposure that the brand has gotten as well as Swamp People. We'll see if the numbers come back great on Thursday. If I were a betting girl...

When you did local buys in past years, were you able to see a ratings bump?

It's not a black and white science, you never know quite what's doing what, but we absolutely saw big jumps. It wasn't always Swamp People, we did it with Pawn Stars one year and Ax Men one year. Ax Men saw a significant jump in the season premiere rating from its first season. It's kind of nice to do it in a show's second of third season because you have a benchmark to measure it against, to see the power of what that audience can deliver.

And will big sporting event buys be a part of your strategy moving forward?

We've always done that. It's not a new strategy. We are the number two network for men in all of cable to ESPN. It's a natural connection that our guys are watching a tremendous amount of sports and what we need to do is remind them when they're not engaged in the game, they need to be engaged with us, and they are.

What big sporting event buys might you make next?

We don't look at it that way. It's more about the campaigns that are coming up and what we might need to do for that campaign. Hatfields & McCoys will be our next big marketing push for Memorial Day. And that needs to be a broader, bigger entertainment audience, so it doesn't mean that we won't be in sports, but you have to look at each event with the target that you're going after and the audience that you think you're going to attract. Of course a good lion's share of our media goes into sporting events but you also have to take into consideration the season of sport. Football attracts a much bigger audiencethan some of the other seasons that we see out there, so it's just a more efficient and effective platform when we can use it.

Are you looking at the Olympics this summer?

We don't really, we're not really looking too closely at that but that's because it's more of a longer, two-week stretch. The Olympics also tends to sometimes be a little more female. So the composition isn't as pure as we would like to see for our audiences. You're dealing with a brand as big as History's it is number two for men, number four in all of cable. Our own on-air is doing quite a bit of the heavy lifting as well.

What would be an ideal event to target this season then?

We look at the broadcast finales in May, we look at NBA Finals, we look at certain baseball matches across the board, but there isn't an event in the horizon that we are specifically targeting right now.

So no other big buys coming up?

The Super Bowl obviously gets a tremendous amount of attention and UFC moving over to Fox elevates its platform so that's great for us in the sense that we have something else to go to as well. But we don't sort of manage our media that way.

Will you continue involvement with UFC?

We've done things in the past with them and we'll continue when it's a fit, absolutely, it makes tremendous sense for us, and them.

Can you estimate what percentage of your marketing budget is going to these big sporting event placements?

I couldn't. The investment in this Super Bowl ad was within the current campaign budget, we just did the analysis of did it make more sense to buy national cable for a week or did it make more sense to buy a Super Bowl spot? We did a lot of homework about that and we made the judgment call and the bet that for us, it was better to go big.

In terms of other series, what percentage are you spending on sports buys?

We look at every show individually in terms of the audience targets for that show, the kind of audience we think it will attract, and what's available in the marketplace at that time. We don't say OK, 30 percent of everything is sports. Obviously we skew heavily toward sports because the concentration of men are just there, but we also look for those buzzy partnerships that get you added value beyond the media buy.

Are there any partnerships coming up then?

We haven't made Hatfields decisions yet; it's too soon. We certainly have a budget for it but the team hasn't presented to me what we think the best combination is. But we'll obviously have lots to choose from with it being Memorial Day and it being at the tail end of the May sweeps. That will be the next one we look at. We just wanted to get to the day after the Super Bowl.

Do you think you'll do another national Super Bowl buy next year?

We had a great experience, we're going to look at the numbers on Thursday and we'll see what we have in the pipeline next February and if something makes sense, I certainly would advocate for it again.