The result: Increased traffic to Wish-Bone’s Web site and sales for the limited-edition dressings created on the show and distributed to store shelves 24 hours after it aired.
|Its brand integration in Martha Stewart TV shows is the largest marketing campaign Wish-Bone has ever undertaken.
Despite lower-than-expected ratings, NBC’s The Apprentice: Martha Stewart is delivering product sales and major publicity for Unilever's Wish-Bone salad dressings.
In the series’ fifth episode, which aired Oct. 19, two teams had to create limited-edition varieties of Wish-Bone salad dressing, designing packaging and selling it at two Stew Leonard’s grocery store locations within 24 hours. Flavors created: rosemary lime vinaigrette and cranberry walnut vinaigrette.
Wish-Bone approached the show's producer, Mark Burnett Productions, months before the homemaking icon’s new series went into production, hoping to use the integration as part of a larger strategy to "breathe some new life into Wish-Bone," said Matthew McCarthy, senior brand development manager for Wish-Bone.
Executives declined to disclose financial terms of the deal, but in the past, marketers have paid Mark Burnett Productions millions to sponsor tasks in the original The Apprentice starring Donald Trump.
As part of the integration, Mr. McCarthy and his team developed a marketing plan surrounding Wish-Bone's appearance on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart "to amplify Wish-Bone's part in the show," he said.
A TV ad featuring the show's co-stars, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia consultant Alexis Stewart and MSLO Chairman Charles Koppelman, aired during the program, touting Ms. Stewart's confession of her love for Wish-Bone despite growing up on her mother's homemade salad dressings. The co-stars also participated in a satellite media tour the day after the show to tout the new dressings, and the TV ad they starred in aired as the opener to Martha, Martha Stewart's syndicated daytime show.
Unilever also used its integration in the show to make its first foray into online advertising with tie-ins to a variety of Web sites, including NBC's "Martha" site and Yahoo.
It also redesigned its own site, www.wish-bone.com, to feature the varieties developed on the show, offer visitors the chance to vote on new flavors to be created and sold in stores next spring, and watch the spot featuring Ms. Stewart and Mr. Koppelman. Additionally, the site launched a promotion offering consumers a chance to win free tickets to the finale of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.
Mr. McCarthy said the effort is "the single biggest marketing program Wish-Bone has ever done," and noted that, while branded integration is an important part of Unilever's efforts to "focus on brilliant marketing," such efforts are not without risk.
"Branded integration certainly requires a leap of faith because even though we provided the venue, the information and were able to steer things a bit, in the end we had to step back and let them take control," Mr. McCarthy said.
The element Wish-Bone’s executive couldn’t control: over-the-top contestants.
As the sponsored task shifted into sales mode, members of the show’s teams competed to sell as many bottles of their limited-edition dressings as they could. Several members took their sales efforts too far, with one pushing multiple bottles on customers, while another irritated shoppers with his nonsensical rants and crude and vulgar language.
As for media coverage of the NBC show's lower-than-expected ratings, Mr. McCarthy said that based on the results seen thus far, "you'd never know anyone thought the program wasn't doing well."
He said the hype before the show aired likely led to too-high expectations when in actuality the show has commanded decent ratings, putting it in the middle of the pack.
The episode in which Wish-Bone was featured was watched by 6.8 million viewers and matched the series’ highest rating for 18- to 49-year-olds. Among viewers, the series has been hovering around the 7 million mark.
Those numbers were enough to generate the kind of exposure Wish-Bone executives were looking for.
Since the episode aired, grocery retailers have embraced displays of the dressings developed on the program, driving higher-than-expected sales results, though Wish-Bone declined to disclose specific numbers. Additionally, both Web site traffic and media impressions (more than 15 million in the six days following the program) have also exceeded expectations, Mr. McCarthy said.
Wish-Bone is so pleased, in fact, with its tie-in with the homemaking maven that the company is in the midst of developing additional tie-ins with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia that would include the daytime Martha and her array of publications.