Marketers Rely on Reality Shows for Integrations

Take the Safe Route but Miss Chance to Tie-in With Recognized Scripted Characters

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The deal: TV is full of product placement, with marketers trying to align themselves with hit properties as a way to rise above the clutter of traditional advertising.

The result: The brands are making it on the air, but marketers have yet to leverage the ability to tie-in with a well-known character and gain valuable exposure through the association.

'Friday Night Lights' is one of only a handful of scripted shows to have multiple brands integrated into the show.

David Conley may not seem like your typical brand spokesman, but the 32-year-old coal miner from Kentucky has been shilling for brands from Nissan and Jeep to Nike, Burger King, Disneyland and the University of Kentucky on TV last month.

As a contestant on the 10th season of the CBS reality show "The Amazing Race," Mr. Conley joined the show's other competitors as the most-branded characters on TV in October, handling more products than anyone else on prime time -- be it on a reality show or scripted series, according to Nielsen Media Research's PlaceViews service.

436 occurrences for 'Amazing Race' contestants

For this study, PlaceViews recorded every time an identifiable brand was used on-screen, sponsored a program or was mentioned in dialogue; it didn't track brands that appeared solely in the background. Even so, contestants on "The Amazing Race" landed at the top of the company's chart, with 436 occurrences in October, beating out fictional characters on shows such as "Gilmore Girls," "Two and a Half Men," "Everybody Hates Chris," "One Tree Hill" and "7th Heaven," all of which showed up on the charts.

Most viewers hadn't heard of Mr. Conley until "The Amazing Race" kicked off its latest season, and they're likely not to hear from him once the race is over. The general public might also have a tough time identifying the most-branded TV personality in September -- Dog, who headlines A&E's reality show "Dog the Bounty Hunter," accrued a whopping 748 occurrences, mostly for sporting Oakley sunglasses. (It should be noted that the October PlaceView results are for broadcast only, not cable. "Dog the Bounty Hunter" appeared on a September report for both broadcast and cable.)

So why haven't marketers that align themselves to well-known characters in movies -- just look at all the brands associated with James Bond -- partnered with small-screen icons despite the growing amount of product placement proliferating TV programming?

Consider that the individuals on TV -- either the fictional character or actor playing that character -- are recognized by millions and regularly grace the covers of magazines. The doctors on "Grey's Anatomy" and "House" have yet to show up in any significant way on Nielsen's product-placement lists. Neither have the investigators on any of the "CSI" shows. And where are the "Desperate Housewives"?

A missed opportunity for marketers

"It's a little bit of a missed opportunity," said Annie Touliatos, director of product development and marketing for Nielsen Media Research. She said brands have often been able to capitalize on a celebrity or character's appeal by associating their products with them. "It works really well when a major personality is endorsing your product."

The reason marketers may not have adopted the same strategy they've taken with movies may have to do with the newness of product placement on TV. Well, sort of.

"I think product placement is the new kid on the block in a lot of ways, even though it's been around for many years," Ms. Touliatos said. "There's this fear of cluttering the television marketplace and doing product placement in a respectful manner. Whenever you have any level of conservatism for any strategy, you will miss opportunities. That does limit your vision."

Marketers are essentially playing it safe. Just look at the data.

In September, reality shows dominated PlaceViews' list, with "The Amazing Race," "Big Brother," "The Biggest Loser," and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" taking the top spots on broadcast TV.

That changed a bit in October, when scripted shows "Friday Night Lights" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" on NBC, the CW's "Gilmore Girls" and "The Game," Fox's "The War at Home" and My Network TV's "Fashion House" broke into the top 10. "Friday Night Lights" and "Gilmore Girls" made the top five, with reality series "The Amazing Race 10," NBC's "The Biggest Loser," "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" and the CW's "America's Next Top Model" filling out the rest of the list.

'Friday Night Lights'

Of the dramas, "Friday Night Lights" dominated October; the show's high-school football coach Eric Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler, and his players wear American Eagle Outfitters and Under Armour clothing, drive Chevrolet trucks, toss around Wilson footballs and drink Ovaltine and Gatorade. The characters repped 86 brand occurrences.

Compare that with Starter Apparel, which alone had 166 occurrences in October, mostly on "Biggest Loser," given its sponsorship and heavy presence in the show. That made Starter the top brand handled last month. It also dominated the September charts with 108 occurrences. Starter was followed by Nike and Under Armour apparel, Schutt sports equipment and the University of Kentucky last month.

Individually, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) is the scripted character that interacted with the most brands last month, brands such as Ikea, Milk Duds and Sour Patch Kids candy, TV shows including "The View" and "Girlfriends," or movies such as "Casablanca," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Dances with Wolves" or "Bullitt." That isn't surprising, considering that characters on "The Gilmore Girls" have been spouting, in their rapid-fire dialogue, pop culture references and product mentions for the past six seasons.

Overall, however, Dave Gold (Michael Rapaport), the dad on the sitcom "The War at Home," comes in tops with 85 brand occurrences, using or mentioning everything from restaurant chain Chili's Grill & Bar to Ruffles baked potato chips, Porsche cars, and Milton Bradley's Twister and Scrabble games. He's the one scripted character who comes close to being a major product endorser -- the character shows up 26 times on the chart wearing Reeboks, for example.

Surprising results for automaker placement

Only automakers Nissan and Jeep made the top 10 as the top automotive brands, ranking No. 6 and No. 7, mainly for their appearance in "Amazing Race," curious considering that automakers are spending more of their marketing dollars around integrations in TV shows than ever before. Overall, the automotive category came in No. 2 in October, with 383 occurrences.

Nielsen expects reality shows to continue to land most of the brands.

"It doesn't surprise us" that the shows have dominated the charts to date, Ms. Touliatos said. "We know as an industry that the reality shows have been easier to break into. We're not surprised to see more characters handle product in them."
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