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Product Placement Put in the Game

Product integration, which has become almost standard practice in reality programming, is going to grow by leaps and bounds this coming season in scripted shows.

In fact, Les Moonves, co-president and co-COO of Viacom, where he oversees both CBS and UPN, predicts that in three or four TV seasons, as much as 75 percent of all prime-time, scripted shows on the broadcast nets will carry some element of product placement.

"On CBS, we'll have about three scripted shows that by the end of fourth quarter will have some product integration elements in them," Moonves said. He would not identify the shows, saying the details were still being worked out with advertisers.

Other networks also are taking product placement more seriously. The WB, for example, has created a special program through which advertisers can pick a scripted show and become the exclusive product-integration partner of that show.

This coming season, expect even more product placement in reality shows like NBC's The Apprentice and The Contender and Fox's The Complex: Malibu. The latter, which premieres Aug. 30 at 8 but will air on Mondays at 9 after that, has a major sponsorship element from Sears. In The Complex, couples compete with their neighbors to see who can do the best renovation on a tight budget. Sears, a client of media agency MindShare, which put the deal together with Fox and producer Fremantle Media, is supplying all the renovation materials and appliances.

The Apprentice will include a massive amount of advertiser involvement next season, according to producer Mark Burnett. Virtually all the tasks undertaken on the show will involve some company tie-in. Burnett mentioned the presence of Mattel and Toys R Us. One of the tasks will be for each of the two teams to build a toy, one that Mattel will eventually make and which will be sold at Toys R Us stores.

While advertiser involvement in reality is growing, deals for scripted shows also are underway. This season will see a unique pact involving the NBC drama American Dreams and Campbell's Soup.

Two years ago, according to NBC Universal Television Networks president Jeff Zucker, the show's exec producer, Jonathan Prince, suggested working old spots of current advertisers, such as Coca-Cola, into TV sequences on the show, set in the early '60s. NBC passed, but now is moving on a different idea.

NBC, Campbell's and Scholastic will sponsor an essay contest with a $100,000 scholarship prize, running Aug. 15–Nov. 30. Scholastic will promote the contest in schools. There will be a parallel storyline on American Dreams in which one of the characters will enter the contest. The contest will be promoted on Campbell's Soup cans. Furthermore, the soup cans will be seen in several episodes, but only with a passing mention, Prince said.

While Zucker stressed that NBC is not jumping into product integration in scripted content "feet first," he added, "It's an avenue of revenue we are not turning our heads away from anymore."

The WB's Preferred Partnership program for scripted shows enables advertisers to participate beyond 30-second spots. The program, a joint effort between the WB's sales and marketing departments and various studios, already has landed deals with Verizon for the new season of Smallville and Procter & Gamble for What I Like About You's new season.

"We are encouraging our advertisers to work with us to make this happen and to go show by show, to see where they want to be and where they can become a preferred partner," said WB chairman Garth Ancier.

The producers who allowed product integration in the WB shows, Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins, also are involved in a partnership with ABC summer drama The Days. That show was financed by media agency MindShare, which will get a portion of the back-end revenue if the show gets into syndication as well as a number of the show's 30-second spots and some product placement for clients Sears and Unilever.

Peter Tortorici, who heads up the unit of MindShare charged with making these deals, said he is talking with two other networks about similar projects. He said discussions "are better than halfway down the road," adding that the next project could be finalized and announced by late fourth quarter or early January.


John Consoli, Mediaweek. July 26, 2004.

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