Improving Its Own Image, Pond's Signs Integration Deal With USA

Skin-Care Brand to Appear in Cable Network's Six-Part Miniseries

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LOS ANGELES -- In Hollywood and in advertising, it's tough to age gracefully.

So executives at USA Network wanted a brand partner with a spring in its step when they decided to develop a miniseries about a 40-something woman who needs to rebuild her life after being traded in for a younger model by her movie-mogul husband.

USA Network executives could've shopped the miniseries to numerous ad sponsors because it's a good candidate for product integration with marketers that speak to women in their 40s. They decided to focus in on one sponsor for a deep and uncluttered deal.

They found their mate in Unilever's Pond's, which has gone through its own transformation to hip up what has been perceived as a grandma brand.

The two are working together on "The Starter Wife," a six-part series based on the best-selling book by Gigi Levangie Grazer, who's married to Hollywood film producer Brian Grazer.

Extensive integration deal

The result is an extensive integration deal that will embed the brand into the six-hour program and plaster it throughout an on-air, online, print and outdoor ad campaign. The collaboration will start next month as Pond's launches a contest to find women who embody "grown-up beauty," a reference to the protagonist of the miniseries who has to pick herself up after being dumped.

Pond's also will give the project valuable retail real estate through in-store promotions at high-traffic chains such as CVS and Target in the weeks leading up to the May 31 premiere.

"The Starter Wife," starring Debra Messing, Judy Davis and Joe Mantegna, is shooting now in Australia. Scenes that will incorporate Pond's haven't yet been finalized, but the brand, its products and logo could make repeated appearances in the show.

USA Network executives could've shopped the miniseries to numerous ad sponsors because it's a good candidate for product integration with marketers that speak to women in their 40s. They decided to focus in on one sponsor for a deep and uncluttered deal.

Agency sought out projects

Executives at MindShare had been asking the network for potential tie-in projects for Pond's, a client, and it seemed like a no-brainer to match up the health-and-beauty product with a show that focuses on aging and how to deal with it.

"The brand essence of the products fit perfectly with the brand essence of the content," said Mark Miller, senior VP-ad sales at USA Network. "The integration doesn't feel forced to either party."

Pond's executives felt the soul-mate vibe, too.

"'The Starter Wife' really celebrates the sexy, sassy, confident 40-something woman, and Pond's is really geared toward the woman who embodies all those qualities," said Stacie Bright, senior marketing communications director at Unilever.

For Unilever, Pond's has been something of a starter wife to trophy-wife Dove in terms of spending priorities in recent years, and this year the brand faces competition from the launch the new Dove Pro-Age skin-care line as well as L'Oreal's new Garnier skin-care line aimed at a somewhat younger demographic.

But Ms. Bright said Pond's is an anti-aging brand with a distinct position from Dove, whose new line, in keeping with its "Campaign for Real Beauty," is positioned as "pro aging," as she put it, with ads that will encourage women to be comfortable with their looks as they age.

As for the spending priorities, Ms. Bright said: "It's not about how big is your truck. It's really about how much heavy lifting can your vehicle do and are you using every vehicle and tactic the best way that you can for your brand. And we think 'The Starter Wife' is the perfect vehicle, and all of the 360 components that make up that program are really right for this audience."

Cable's scripted fare OK for brands

Basic cable channels such as USA, FX and Bravo have been at the forefront of integration deals that span a number of episodes or an entire season. USA executives said they increasingly scout for brand integrations for their original scripted shows, cementing deals with Buick for "Monk" and a few partners for the upcoming second season of "Psych."

Networks have tended to integrate brands more often into reality shows because it's an easier fit, but scripted programming is becoming an attractive draw for advertisers.

"It's such a big part of our business," Mr. Miller said. "Straight sponsorship deals are not the opportunities that advertisers are looking for right now. The days of billboard and banners are gone."

Executives declined to put a dollar figure on "The Starter Wife" deal, but said it was negotiated as a sponsorship package with brand integration included.

The deal came through MindShare and USA Network's ad sales division, with help from Alcone Marketing, Ogilvy North America, Think Integrated and Weber Shandwick Worldwide.

Contests and heavy retail presence

All the marketing around "The Starter Wife" will include "presented by Pond's" as part of the message. The fact that Pond's is creating contests and hyping the show at retail "doubles our assets," said Chris McCumber, senior VP-marketing and brand strategy at USA Network.

The network started its initial marketing for the miniseries last summer when it announced the project and began airing on-air teases in November.

Because the story's so steeped in Hollywood, it was important to stress that the movie has appeal to women everywhere, Mr. McCumber said. Pond's will help with that, hyping the show in drug stores and mass retailers that carry its product lines and creating a watch-and-win contest that will give away symbols of female empowerment -- right-hand diamond rings.

Another contest will search for five 40-something women who personify "grown-up beauty," and will be featured in vignettes that will air during the miniseries. The microsite,, goes live Feb. 7.

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Jack Neff contributed to this report.
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