The Walt Disney Co. cable sports giant and Domino's on Jan. 28 rolled out the first of a series of four 90-second spots that star the fictional Mr. Palochak, which will continue to run during the prime-time SportsCenter for eight weeks.
Getting close to the brand
"The Planner Presented by Domino's," created by Los Angeles-based Ground Zero, features Mr. Palochak, an expert of sports-party planning, and his eager protégé, Reid, traveling the country to help people plan the ultimate game-watching party. But unlike ESPN's previous shorts, high jinks and hilarity ensue.
"People want to get close to the ESPN and SportsCenter brand," said Eric Johnson, exec VP-ESPN multimedia sales. "There is value to the idea that we're providing humor, engaging the viewers, and doing it by having humorous looks at this phenomenon and how it fits with Dominos and their products. Each one is different based on the advertiser, but with Domino's we think it's a natural fit."
The shorts feature four parties (two football, one basketball and one hockey), and follow Mr. Palochak and Reid executing all phases of party-planning: ideas, preparation and the party itself. And of course, Domino's delivery boys are a part of each plot, and Domino's products are the main food offerings at each party.
"It's not a substitute for more traditional advertising, but we're always looking for new ways to engage our viewers," said Jill Cooley, director-promotion and partnerships for Domino's. "We wanted to capitalize on the strong fun and humor elements that ESPN is so well known for."
This is the fourth time ESPN has joined with a corporate partner for the shorts, Mr. Johnson said. ESPN unveiled the shorts in 2004, with "The Scout Presented by Sears," about a hard-luck scout who discovers a 12-year-old phenom (who happens to be a groundskeeper using Craftsman products), and must sign him quickly to save his job. In 2005, the network aired "The Squeeze Presented by Miller," which was about a Boston family trying to celebrate a World Series title while properly mourning the loss of their uncle, who had died of a heart attack during Game Six.
'Subtle, but not too subtle'
"It is product placement [in] that [the ads are saying] 'Dominos is your meal solution for your viewing parties,'" Ms. Cooley said of the company's noticeably softer sell. "There are so many ways to tune out advertising, so we try to do anything we can do to cut through that. This is subtle, but not too subtle. This makes the suggestion to people without screaming it from the highest tower."
Domino's is promoting the spots on their box toppers (a piece of paper on top of every pizza box), alerting their customers to tune in to SportsCenter to catch the ads. ESPN was adamant about keeping the shorts on SportsCenter -- and in their video archives (one episode posted on YouTube was quickly taken down).
Both parties were mum on future partnerships; the Ann Arbor, Mich. pizza chain has sponsored ESPN/ABC's "Monday Night Football" for the past two seasons, and Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic from "Mike and Mike," ESPN Radio's popular morning talk show, have done voice-overs for Domino's commercials in the past.
"It's too soon to commit," Ms. Cooley said. "We're interested to see the reception from the TV-viewing audience and our internal system and get some feedback."