Originally created 05/14/98

`Seinfeld' finale advertisers paid record prices



NEW YORK -- Advertisers paid record prices for a chance to pitch trendy clothes, meatless burgers and flea killer for Fido to the millions of folks expected to watch Thursday night's final episode of "Seinfeld."

NBC said more than 20 advertisers bought network commercial time in the 75-minute finale. A spot or two from the 12-minute national ad pool was said to be available on the eve of the show.

Network officials declined to say what it charged, but people familiar with the sales said the average price is about $1.7 million for a 30-second ad, setting a new benchmark for TV commercial costs.

That is about triple the rate for ads on other episodes of the popular comedy and higher that the previous record of $1.3 million set on the Super Bowl football telecast in January, also carried on NBC.

"This pricing proves advertisers still have confidence in broadcast television," Larry Hoffner, head of NBC's television network sales, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

That has been an issue as ratings for the four broadcast networks have shrunk while cable TV's collective share has risen in recent years.

Media buyers say NBC has skillfully fanned anticipation for the show, keeping the plot secret and scheduling a 45-minute program that will feature clips from earlier episodes just before the finale and the season finale of the highly rated "E.R." afterwards.

They say that has helped make the evening an event that people will plan to watch, creating a Super Bowl-like platform for advertisers who want to reach a big audience including an elusive group that doesn't watch much TV.

"It's a smart, funny show that we know a lot of our customers watch," said Rebecca Weill, a spokeswoman for the Gap brand which will run an ad for its khakis pants.

The advertisers have been told to expect that as many as 90 million people will tune in for at least part of the show.

John Payne, who oversees marketing of Bayer Corp.'s Advantage flea-killing solution for cats and dogs, said the "Seinfeld" finale gives him a chance to reach a big share of the 55 million pet owners in America.

The Advantage ad will feature dogs and cats appearing to sing commercial lyrics written to fit a popular children's tune.

Credit card rivals Visa USA and MasterCard International each have ads on the finale. One source said American Express was considering making a last-minute purchase although the ad was unlikely to feature the Jerry Seinfeld, who has been in 18 ads for the card since November 1992.

Sony Pictures Entertainment bought a spot for its "Godzilla" movie while Warner Bros. will pitch "A Perfect Murder" and "Lethal Weapon 4."

The company with possibly the most riding on its commercial is Gardenburger Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based maker of vegetable patties that resemble hamburgers. The ad is the centerpiece of a five-week commercial blitz that will consume its entire $14 million ad budget.