Staples' Success With Reality Shows Changes Marketing Focus

Retailer Hires Davie-Brown With an Eye to Scripted Integration

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The deal: After successful appearances in reality TV shows like "The Apprentice," and a recent integration in a video game, executives at Staples aim to make branded entertainment a bigger part of the company's marketing strategy.

The result: Staples has recruited Davie-Brown Entertainment to pursue more entertainment opportunities across film, TV and games.

It didn't take much for Staples to realize just how important entertainment can be as a marketing tool.
In addition to appearing in reality shows, Staples had a storefront presence in Atari's PC game "Tycoon City: New York."

Last year, the Framingham, Mass., office-supply-store chain sponsored a task in the third season of NBC's "The Apprentice" in which contestants designed and marketed a "Desk Apprentice," or rotating desk organizer. Staples ended up selling 50,000 Desk Apprentices at $35 a piece and couldn't keep them in stock after the episode aired. Nearly 1,000 of the organizers sold on in the first 15 minutes. Within three days, the site had collected an e-mail waiting list with 10,000 names.

First foray into product placement

"It was our first foray" into product placement, said Catherine Cusack, VP-brand programs, Staples. "After we saw some success in the area, it was something we wanted to pursue."

Staples has since appeared in an episode of ABC's hit show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," in which one of its delivery trucks dropped off supplies as part of a home-office makeover. And the marketer was also included as one of several real-world brands with storefronts in Atari's PC game "Tycoon City: New York," which allows players develop their own version of Manhattan. The game hits store shelves in February.

The company is now looking to significantly increase the number of integrations in entertainment to support its traditional marketing spending. In 2005, the company spent $93 million on media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Entertainment-marketing AOR

Earlier this month, it tapped Los Angeles-based marketing shop Davie-Brown Entertainment to serve as the company's entertainment-marketing agency of record. Davie-Brown also represents advertisers such as Pepsi-Cola, Frito-Lay, Hewlett-Packard and Reebok in Hollywood. Davie-Brown will also oversee marketing opportunities such as events and celebrity outreach for Staples.

Staples had previously worked with Grey Global Group's entertainment-marketing shop Alliance, based in New York, on several deals, including the "Tycoon City" video game. However, Alliance never officially served as Staples' agency of record when it came to entertainment, executives at the retailer said.

Davie-Brown will seek out product-placement and integration opportunities across the board, including film, TV, games and the Internet -- projects that appeal to Staples' target demographic of consumers aged 25 to 54.

Increasing focus on scripted fare

While much of Staples' previous integrations have been in reality TV, the company is looking to steer away from the genre -- an area that is growing increasingly cluttered by other marketers -- and focus more on scripted fare.

"We are concentrating our efforts on non-reality," Ms. Cusack said. It would prefer to have characters in a TV show or film shown talking about Staples being an easy place to shop and demonstrating it. That includes showing off the company's stores, its copy and print centers, and having characters order products on

"Our brand promises that we make buying office products easy for customers," Ms. Cusack said. "We want to reinforce that easy promise first and foremost."

Separating platforms

"We're not putting product placement and integration on the same platform," Ms. Cusack said.

Staples isn't the only company that has recently taken entertainment more seriously as a marketing tool. Hotel brands Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Hilton, truck-rental firm Penske and shipping service DHL, among others, have all started to aggressively pursue projects in Hollywood as a way to generate exposure for themselves.

But Staples has proved that it's willing to spend the money to play the product-placement or integration game in Hollywood.

The appearance in "The Apprentice" easily cost $1 million, with Staples footing the bill to produce the "Desk Apprentice" in mere months.

"We really do want the TV and film community to know that Staples is in the business and that we are looking for opportunities," Ms. Cusack said.
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