Will departure of Barker cost 'Price'?

With its iconic host set to retire, brand-exposure force The Price is Right faces challenge of change.

With its iconic host set to retire, brand-exposure force The Price is Right faces challenge of change.

From its block party-vibe theme song to its trademark "Come on down!" call, few TV programs have entered American popular culture like The Price is Right. So when Bob Barker, the show's host and executive producer of 35 years, announced his pending retirement last week, the news drew international headlines.

"It's part of Americana to say you were even just in the audience," explains Steve Beverly, a TV game show analyst and dean of communications at Union University in Jackson, TN. "To see Barker just one time is one of those 'tell your grandchildren' type of moments."

"One thing that's unique about The Price is Right," adds Henri Bollinger, Barker's longtime publicist, "is it's a show for the average American. All the prizes and goods, the trips - they're directed to the average American... It's the reason viewers connect with the show. Every ethnic group and age group believes they have a chance of being on the show and winning a prize."

CBS says the show will continue, though the new host and/or any particular changes have not yet been determined. Whoever does assume Barker's role as host will steward a show that, while entertaining millions of Americans, has also delighted hundreds of corporations, as the show's emphasis on value shopping and Barker's innate charisma have made the program a one-of-a-kind showcase for building brand awareness.

Beverly notes that appearing on The Price is Right "is probably one of the most efficient" ways to generate consumer recall for everything from appliances to cars (always US-made, per Barker's mandate).

Rice-A-Roni, Turtle Wax, and Lee Press-On Nails "are small-ticket items that became household names when given away on game shows," including The Price is Right, Beverly says.

"The way The Price is Right presents products is unique in a number of ways," says Ben Robertson, president of Hollywood, CA-based marketing firm Game Show Placements. In many of the show's regular features, "the camera comes in close up on the product and describes it," he says. "Boom! Your product becomes star of that segment. It's a tremendous brand opportunity, with very high viewer attention."

"Brands are an integral part of the show," agrees Sheila Ray, sales executive at Burbank, CA-based Exposure Unlimited. Her firm started working with The Price is Right in the '80s, she says, as a vehicle to generate brand exposure for clients, including dinette-crafters Ashley Furniture, "when no one had even heard their name."

"It's a great opportunity for us as a product category to get more exposure," says Erica Moir, VP of marketing and R&D at Chino, CA-based Jacuzzi Spas International. Her company has featured both its Sundance and Jacuzzi models on the show, she says. The former targets an older, more health-concerned demographic, while the latter reaches out to the program's "younger, university cult following," Moir explains.

Exposure wasn't just limited to for-profit brands. Barker's personal sign-off message, "Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered," was embraced by organizations like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"Barker has really brought so much to the animal-welfare community," says Madeline Bernstein, president of the SPCA-Los Angeles. The organization has worked with The Price is Right for years to bring awareness to pet-overpopulation issues; once a month, cats and dogs from the city's shelters are featured on the show to remind viewers to adopt.

"People call from around the country" after these segments run, Bernstein says, and it's made a significant impact. "[Barker] has kept the organization on the national scene," she notes. "He's never wavered."

After Barker's June departure, "there will be a lot of pressure on the show" and CBS to deliver younger viewers, Beverly says. That could prove to be a challenge for several reasons, he adds, not the least of which being that "people don't want The Price is Right to change."

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