Brand Integration Deal Includes 32 Hour-Long Episodes

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The deal: Executives at media-buying firm Initiative bartered an agreement for the Levitra logo to appear on the felt of ESPN's "World Series of Poker." The prescription drug also got billboards and sponsored segments as part of its media buy and alliance with the series.

The result: Levitra has front-and-center exposure during 32 hour-long episodes of the show this season, creating one of the most visible, ongoing brand integrations on TV.

Erectile dysfunction drugs have had plenty of call-outs on TV, but most often as the punch line on sitcoms and late-night chat shows. While they get the joke, executives working on Levitra had a more significant and controllable kind of product placement in mind.
Levitra's logo is positioned in the center of the poker table and will be visible on-camera throughout the series.

In the past, the drug category has not been much of a player in brand integration in either scripted or reality TV, though there have been some sponsorship deals in the recent past with professional sports franchises and high-profile advertising during the Super Bowl and other well-watched events.

TiVo-proof brand integration

Executives at Levitra's media-buying agency Initiative said they were looking for a TiVo-proof way to get the brand in front of men 18- to 49-years-old. To do so, they made a two-year deal with ESPN's "World Series of Poker" to be integrated into the show in the most visible place possible -- on the felt, the epicenter of the action.

Players rake in their chips over the Levitra logo, and dealers dole out the closely watched cards the same way.

Though there are a number of poker series on TV, Initiative executives said they did not hesitate to make the brand integration deal with ESPN.

"It's the granddaddy of all the card-playing shows," said Arthur Schreibman, exec VP-negotiating strategies at Initiative. "It gave us the opportunity to be very topical because of the heat around poker shows."

Targeting younger audience

The brand, co-marketed by Schering-Plough and GlaxoSmithKline, has an ongoing relationship with the National Football League and has created partnerships with the Professional Golfers' Association. But Levitra has been looking for a slightly younger audience, and the deal with "World Series of Poker" has helped put the brand in front of those targeted men, executives said.

The World Series of Poker deal began in 2004, when the show aired 22 hours of original episodes. It continues this season, which will wrap up next week after airing 32 hours. Additionally, the show airs in repeats on the network and its sibling ESPN2, racking up eight to 10 more hours of screen time. Executives haven't decided if they will return for another season, but they're considering it.

Levitra is the only brand on the felt, aside from Harrah's, the owner of the "World Series of Poker" trademark. The drug will be part of any media platform that the show is distributed on, including potential DVDs or video on demand.

Also plugged in conversation

In addition to its orchestrated placement, Levitra has gotten some unplanned face time on the show. Earlier this season, players were chatting among themselves during a game when someone asked Phil Hellmuth Jr., known as a volatile character, if his psychiatrist wife prescribed him mood elevating drugs. Another broke in and said she'd be more likely to prescribe him Levitra.

"Everybody had a good laugh about it," Mr. Schreibman said.

The integration works, Mr. Schreibman said, because the marketer advertises heavily around the show. Initiative's research has shown that brand integrations are most effective when they're surrounded by paid media.

Several other marketers are involved with the "World Series of Poker," including Toyota, Unilever's Degree and Miller Brewing Co.'s Milwaukee's Best Light.

It's important for the sports network, owned by the Walt Disney Co., to limit the number of brand integration partners.

Junking up the show

"We didn't want to junk up the show," said Paul Green, VP-director of sales at ESPN Original Entertainment, which produces the show. "We wanted the right type of advertisers for the target, and we made sure the placement didn't take away from the action."

Levitra has prime placement, Mr. Green said, because "it's like being on the pitcher's mound."

Executives wouldn't comment on the terms of the deals, which started with an increased media commitment from each of the brands. Unilever's Degree and Milwaukee's Best Light created off-channel promotions around their integration into the show.

ESPN has embedded a number of marketers into its shows, including Under Armor in "Playmakers." The "World Series of Poker" deal was the first with a pharmaceutical product, which had category exclusivity for the show's run.

1.3 show rating

The show has averaged a 1.3 rating this season, with more than 1.1 million households watching.

Levitra, which controls about 11% of the erectile dysfunction drug market, dumped its ad agency, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, this past summer and put Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide on the account. The marketers spent $143.6 million on the brand in 2004.
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