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Ads pepper reality shows with product placements

Reality TV is tempting advertisers with the formerly forbidden fruit of product placement.

New reality shows, such as Temptation Island 2 and The Runner, are negotiating what are now called "product integration" deals with marketers like Miller and Sears. The deals place products within shows, as well as around them in TV commercials.

Chrysler is on the prowl for a placement deal for its various nameplates. "We are always exploring new alternatives which naturally communicate our brand messages," says Jeff Bell, vice president of marketing communications for DaimlerChrysler.

Product placement used to be a no-no on TV. But the rise of reality TV has brought back a marketing tactic not seen much on the small screen since the 1950s.

Why? Unscripted reality shows offer more opportunities for product integration than scripted dramas and comedies, says Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox. Also, the deals are simpler for limited-run series that generally air once and are controlled by the network, than for series that may rerun for years. And in the current ad sales slump, networks will do what they have to, especially to sell edgier reality shows that get ratings but make advertisers nervous.

CBS' Survivor blazed the trail, with lucrative multiple placement sponsors, from Reebok to Target, with products used by contestants or given as the payoff for competition among contestants. Taking a cue from that, Buick placed its new Rendezvous SUV as the "reward" during the premiere of CBS' Big Brother 2 and got major screen time. But the plugs also can be subtler - such as shooting scenes inside Taco Bell restaurants for Fox's upcoming Murder in Small Town X.

Some product-heavy "reality" coming soon to a TV near you:

  • Temptation Island 2. Fox is offering product placement deals for its racy reality series showing four "committed" couples tempted by 26 singles. The series won its time slot this winter and delivered the audience of 18-to-34-year-olds that advertisers covet. The sequel begins Oct. 31 and moves to Thursday nights on Nov. 1.

    Miller, an advertiser in the first season, says Fox has approached it about placement. "We will assess the opportunities that make the most sense for us," says Miller spokesman Scott Bussen.

    Imagine the possibilities, says Tim Spengler, director of national broadcast for media services firm Initiative Media in Los Angeles. "If you're a beer or condoms advertiser, this could be a good deal."

  • The Runner. Sears is talking to ABC about a placement package for The Runner, premiering in January. Sears may plug its stores, its brands, such as DieHard batteries, or both, says Sears spokeswoman Lee Antonio. "We're looking at The Runner as one of the opportunities to reach our customer in a compelling, interesting way," Antonio says.

    Pepsi has already signed up. More partners are on the way.

  • Murder in Small Town X. The Fox series premiering July 24 will feature placements by Taco Bell, Jeep and Nokia.

Product placement "integrates us into the actual story," says Debbie Myers, Taco Bell's vice president of media services.

Sometimes reality bites, however. The recent scandal on CBS' Big Brother 2, where one contestant held a knife to another, could make advertisers even queasier about reality, Spengler says.

GM has no plans to advertise further on Big Brother 2 despite its placement in the first episode, says Buick spokesman John Ray. While Buick made the decision before the knife came out, according to Ray, the incident will bring more "scrutiny" to reality shows. "As a responsible company, we don't want to be associated with any type of violence," he says.

In other cases, sexual and taste issues in such shows as Temptation Island have given advertisers the jitters. Quaker Oats pulled its ads after watching Billy, Mandy and the gang cavort during the first episode last season. And Sears criticized Fox for placing its ad in the show as a "make good," or free ad.

The American Family Association is threatening to boycott companies that buy ads on Temptation Island 2. The group claims it got promises from up to a dozen companies not to advertise on the sequel after its boycott threat during the first season.

"The message of this show is illicit sex is OK. That's our basic objection," says Buddy Smith of American Family Association.


Michael McCarthy, USA TODAY. July 23, 2001

Copyright © 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.. All rights reserved.