How ABC's Daytime Soaps Have Broken Into Branded Merchandising

From CDs to Cosmetics, Jewlery, Loyal Audience Wants Piece of the Shows

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NEW YORK -- ABC has been making women of all ages cry and laugh on a daily basis for decades with its lineup of daytime soap operas "All My Children," "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital." The network has been banking on this emotional relationship for a couple years to successfully build out branded merchandising.
Just in time for Mother's Day: ABC's 'Circles of Love' necklace that will appear in the story lines of its daytime soaps.

Every November, ABC sponsors a "Super Soap" weekend for viewers at the Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Fla. Generally, this involves Saturday and Sunday night concerts starring the soap talent, among other events.

"You get blown away by is the vocal talent of a lot of the actors," said Brian Frons, president-daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group. "Internally, with our business-development group, we had been kicking around a number of different ideas and one of them was a holiday CD. We decided [2006 was] the year to do it."

Put together holiday CD
"A Holiday Affair," a collection of holiday songs performed by the soap stars, hit the ground on the first day of the 2006 "Super Soap" weekend where 36,000 fans were present and sold out immediately -- before either of the concerts. As the holidays geared up, characters who do sing on a semi-regular basis within their dramas sang their holiday tracks and a notice at the end of the show told viewers the CD was available at ABC.com.

"It's a product that has great emotional connection for our audience because of the holidays and because they love these performers," Mr. Frons said. "They see their characters in their living rooms every day, and the idea that they can sort of own a piece of those people and have them in their CD collection really helps drive sales."

While Mr. Frons declined to discuss just how much their efforts did drive sales, he said the day after an original SOAPnet special, "A Very Soapy Christmas," about the making of the CD, aired on ABC, the album broke into Billboard's Top 50 seasonal chart.

Not without precedent
The holiday CD is not without precedent. In 2005 when an "All My Children" storyline had the infamous Erica Kane and her daughter playing out familial strife via their competing cosmetics companies, ABC took the Fusion line to Wal-Mart so viewers could capture the energy and spirit of the drama in "true soap-opera style."
Brian Frons, president-daytime, Disney-ABC Television Group: 'We try to find products that have some emotional connection for our audience because they watch these shows because they are emotionally connected to the characters.'
That same year, a "One Life to Live" character wrote a book "The Killing Club" that hit No. 11 on the real-life New York Times best-seller list. "We are always trying to delve into what's happening on our shows and extend out from there," said Mr. Frons.

"As long as the products being used to inspire merchandise are consistent with what's going on in the program itself -- they are not impeding upon the creative integrity of the program -- then they'll be OK," said licensing expert Michael Stone, president-CEO, Beanstalk Group. "We're not talking about long-term branding, we're talking about opportunistic branding that has a limited duration. The duration could be to to three years, but unless the plotline stays strong, the product is not going to stay strong."

Advertisers on the show, such as Sears, have approached ABC about a piece of the action for themselves, even if it is ephemeral.

A 'Luke and Laura' ring
"I think we try to find products that have some emotional connection for our audience because they watch these shows because they are emotionally connected to the characters," Mr. Frons said. For example, ABC producers, writers and costume designers worked with Sears to find a ring that Luke would actually give Laura for their 25th anniversary remarriage on "General Hospital." Sears would not release sales figures, but it is Mr. Frons' understanding that the ring was one of the retailer's best-selling pieces of jewelry during the season.

The latest iteration of this product integration is another Sears-ABC pairing in time for Mothers' Day. This week several romantic story lines across all three daytime dramas will feature a "Circles of Love" necklace.

"We consistently see positive response from multi-channel programs that combine online and offline marketing initiatives that are contextually relevant to our business and customers. This ABC project is an example of such a program," said Perianne Grignon, VP-media planning and buying, Sears.

Strong target demo
ABC's soaps are the place to be with product integration, as the channel delivers 1.1 million female viewers aged 18-49 on a daily basis, according to ABC.

And the audience is growing, Mr. Stone said. "They get so attached to the program because they are watching it every day for years. TiVo has only expanded that market." People who work during prime soap opera hours can watch later on.

Mr. Frons said integration and merchandising works because "our fans are so loyal. It goes back to the early days of radio drama when people were buying so much [of the sponsor's] soap that these things got tagged soap operas. These are shows that really connect with the audience and because of that people connect with the products advertised in them."
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