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Brands becoming stars of the show

NEW YORK -- Advertainment, the trend of marketers going beyond commercials to put their brands into TV show content, is gaining converts.

On Wednesday, Pepsi announces details of Play for a Billion, a game show special to air in September on the WB network. Pepsi provided the idea and prize — a chance to win $1 billion — and will be an integral part of the two-hour, live show built on a bottle cap sweepstakes.

"You're going to see a lot more of this," says Dave Burwick, chief marketing officer, Pepsi-Cola, North America. "It's so much more difficult for a 30-second ad to stand out these days. ... When you control the content, you develop the exact message you want."

Others seeking to "embed" brands in shows -- and protect themselves from ad-zapping technology such as TiVo:

-- Rival Coca-Cola this week announced a deal to sponsor -- and take a $10 million equity stake in -- the new College Sports TV cable channel. The deal follows success as part of Fox's American Idol show and an 11-year deal with CBS to associate the brand with NCAA sports championships. "I suspect this won't be the last of these kinds of relationships you'll see," says Chuck Fruit, Coke's head of worldwide media and alliances.

-- Anheuser-Busch is backing BOB, a short-film cable channel (films will include long ads) starting up this summer.

-- Mattel will make films based on Hot Wheels with Columbia Pictures.

-- Ford Motor put cars into music videos on American Idol. "To advertise is great, but it's icing on the cake to seamlessly integrate the brand into the show," says Rich Stoddart, Ford's marketing communications manager.

Will consumers rebel? "The upside reward is being part of the fabric of pop culture, but there's a risk if it becomes a joke," says John Allen, a senior partner in branding firm Lippincott Mercer.

Pepsi has hired Who Wants to Be a Millionaire creator Michael Davies of Diplomatic Productions and Matti Leshem to produce its show.

Starting May 1, codes will appear under caps of Pepsi, Sierra Mist and Mountain Dew for consumers to enter online or by mail. Pepsi will pick 1,000 codes to compete on the show.

They'll be weeded down to 10 finalists who'll then gamble in lottery fashion on chances to win cash prizes up to $1 million. The $1 million winner has a shot at a $1 billion bonus, with the winning numbers picked by a monkey.

Pepsi will promote the sweepstakes with $20 million in ads, as well as promotion on the WB and other AOL Time Warner properties.

Says Jed Petrick, president of the WB: "We've had other people knock on our door to connect with young people. But this gig was right. It was fun, and it fit with our brand."

Posted on aef.com: April 11, 2003


Theresa Howard, USA TODAY - April 8, 2003

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