The Biz: ESPN, Dr Pepper, GM in timely deal

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Call it vintage product placement. ESPN's upcoming TV movie "The Junction Boys," about the 1954 Texas A&M football team, includes footage of Dr Pepper and General Motors automobiles as they appeared in that era.

Both Dr Pepper/Seven Up and GM bought advertising time on "Junction Boys" and will also have '50s era versions of their products featured in Dec. 14 film. "Junction Boys" is the true story of 35 players who survived legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's grueling Texas A&M pre-season college football training camp in drought-ridden Junction, Texas, in 1954.

Dr Pepper and GM have exclusive agreements in their respective advertising categories. An ESPN spokeswoman said both companies were guaranteed three to four visuals for their brands in the film.

Ed Erhardt, president of Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN/ABC customer marketing and sales, said both advertisers' spending was "incremental above what they normally did with us." Though GM's Chevy Suburban and Buick, among others, will be featured in "Junction Boys," a spokeswoman for the automaker said "It wasn't part of the negotiated media deal nor did we do a formal product placement deal." The producers got the autos featured in the film from car clubs in Australia, where the movie was filmed.

In Dr Pepper's case, subtle placement of period bottles of its brand, along with signage and billboards from that era are planned. Ads from the brand's current "Be You" campaign from WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, will run during commercial breaks.

The company enlisted a bottler in Dublin, Texas, to ship two vintage cases to Australia for the shoot. The supply "was like gold," said John Clarke, chief advertising officer, Dr Pepper/Seven Up.

Some marketing executives maintain vintage product-placement deals could be confusing to viewers, especially when modern day versions of products appear in TV spots during the film.

Mr. Clarke disagrees: "It's hokey if we've got a product in the movie and it is not representative of the time."

big dr pepper push

The movie's premiere coincides with Dr Pepper's biggest advertising period of the year as it spends significantly in the fourth quarter, with buys tied to college basketball and National Football League games. The soft-drink company is headquartered in Texas, where the film takes place.

"Dr Pepper is a natural for product placement in a Texas-based story," said Mr. Clarke. "It has very clear product awareness because it will be conspicuous in the movie."

One marketing observer said vintage placements work well. "This is good placement because we don't anticipate it [in period movies]," said Mark Workman, president of First Fireworks Group, a Los Angeles-based entertainment marketing consultant. "We have good memories of the good old days and simpler times, where we had strong loyalty to products."

Mr. Workman knows a bit about product tie-ins with period movies. While a senior marketing executive at Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures Group, he worked on "The Mask of Zorro," based on the 19th century fictional Mexican swordsman. There, he put together an unusual marketing deal with Ford Motor Co., with the character Zorro appearing in a tongue-in-cheek Ford TV commercial-riding away in a Mustang rather than on his trusty horse.

contributing: jean halliday

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