NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- HBO may have gotten flak for peddling fake products and fake blogs to promote the second season of "True Blood." But it's making another of its hit shows very real for fans through a new partnership with Starwood Hotels.
Today the newly opened W Hotel in South Beach, Fla., will debut five "Entourage"-themed bungalows, the hotel's first branded suite created for a marketing partner. The bungalows are heavily inspired by the HBO comedy and come equipped with such amenities as a stainless-steel pool table, an outdoor barbecue and stove, a private plunge pool, and artwork from rock photographer Danny Clinch.
The $5,000-a-night package is designed for four, to mimic the quartet in "Entourage," and also includes a personal driver; an afternoon of yachting; a personal poolside cabana and jet skis; dinner for four at South Beach hotspot Solea, followed by table service at W South Beach's Wall nightclub; not to mention a PlayStation 3 and complimentary booze from Grey Goose and Heineken.
It seems a little extravagant for a recession, but Chris Spadaccini, HBO's VP-advertising and promotions, said the network and W set out to create the "ultimate bachelor pad" for "Entourage" fans while still creating value, with extra perks that fit the show's brand and story lines about actor Vince Chase; his brother, Johnny Drama; and their friends Eric and Turtle. "We really wanted to create a property where, if Vince and the boys were to jet to Miami, this is the place they would stay," Mr. Spadaccini said.
HBO and W Hotels will also be offering a more affordable alternative for guests at the 22 W Hotels across the country, called the Entourage Package. W guests can upgrade to a suite with complimentary champagne and an "Entourage" season-five DVD. All W guests will also have access to a free on-demand selection of "Entourage" episodes from seasons four and five as well as behind-the-scenes footage from the upcoming sixth season.
The Starwood deal is the second marketing partnership HBO has engineered in the past year for "Entourage" with Civic Entertainment Group, a media and marketing agency specializing in cable-network promotions. Last fall, the duo teamed up with Virgin America for a PR stunt touting the airline's inaugural flight from Las Vegas, with an additional marketing team-up that made the fifth season of "Entourage" the first season of any show to premiere in-flight.
Mr. Spadaccini called the Virgin promotion a success, with "Entourage" episodes being sampled more than 100,000 times in-flight in September. Spencer Rice, VP, Civic Entertainment Group, said the W partnership creates a similar opportunity for incremental exposure to the show and natural efficiencies for both brands. "The value of a strategic partnership when you're working with a brand that has a similar sensibility ... is you really can expand your reach and impact in a way that is cost-effective and very smart."
Mr. Rice also defended the South Beach package's hefty price tag, saying, "The over-the-top lifestyle on the show is about people that like to live big and dream big, and that's what this partnership is about. The W South Beach is an unbelievably beautiful property that people are going to want to visit. If you're looking for the high-end experience like the boys from 'Entourage' would seek, that bungalow is where you're going to be."
Not the First to Expand a Media Brand
HBO and W Hotels aren't the only ones that have brought a media brand to life in an unexpected arena. Here's a look at three recent brand extensions and how they've fared so far.
Maxim. Alpha Media's popular lad mag has embarked on some of the decade's most ambitious brand extensions, launching everything from a furniture line to a Jeffrey Chodorow-curated steakhouse to a $1.2 billion hotel and casino initially set to debut on the Las Vegas Strip in 2010. Plans for the casino were later scuttled, and MGM Mirage bought the property. The Maxim Prime Steak House, however, is already on its second location in Atlanta less than a year after opening.
Maxim's sibling music magazine, Blender, meanwhile, renamed New York's Gramercy Theater the Blender Theater in 2007, only to be shut down in spring 2009. Maxim has also fallen on hard times, selling 249 ad pages in the first half of 2009 compared to 468 in the first half of 2009.
Nick Hotel. Much like HBO, Nickelodeon went the hospitality route in 2004 with an ambitious, fully Nicked-out hotel that rebranded the existing Holiday Inn Family Suites in Orlando, Fla. Five years in, the hotel is still going strong, welcoming its 1 millionth guest in March 2009 and attracting 300,000 unique visitors to its website per month. The hotel recently expanded to include a 4-D theater to accompany other branded-entertainment features such as two water parks, retail stores and restaurants.
Food Network magazine. The popular cable network made a risky foray into publishing in 2009, the most challenging year the magazine industry has seen in decades, and came out swinging. Since switching from quarterly to every-other-month frequency in the spring, the title announced it will see its rate base expand from 400,000 at launch to 1 million by January 2010 -- some six months ahead of schedule, according to its publishers at Hearst.
-- Andrew Hampp