|Photo: Tracy Bennett/Spike TV|
|Football star Shaun Cody and two wannabe sports agents from 'Super Agent.'
Mr. Cody is a defensive lineman at the University of Southern California, and a prime candidate in the upcoming professional football draft, and he is expected to easily nail a multimillion-dollar deal. The new show makes him a TV star as well.
Like Donald Trump, who challenges his minions on The Apprentice to design clothes for American Eagle Outfitters and create products for Domino’s and packaging for Pepsi, Mr. Cody will give orders on a Boost Mobile cell phone, sport Reebok clothes and sip Bass Ale.
Scheduled to launch this summer on the Viacom-owned channel, Super Agent is The Apprentice meets Jerry Maguire, with nine contestants trying to win over the future multimillion-dollar client, who, thankfully, never uses the overworked phrase "Show me the money."
The Super Agent deals came together quickly, even by TV standards. Executives at Spike aligned with Reebok, General Motors Corp.’s Pontiac division, Boost Mobile and Interbrew’s Bass Ale within two weeks of shopping the show’s concept. The marketers were involved from the earliest stages of production so they could “get into the DNA of the show,” said David Lawenda, Spike’s senior vice president of ad sales.
The advertisers, all current sponsors of the cable channel, bought time around Super Agent and elsewhere on the schedule. They were integrated into the eight-episode series as a value-add to their media buys, and most are seen throughout the show.
Spike has been home to several unscripted shows with brand integration, including The Club, from Reveille Co. and Omnicom Group’s Full Circle Entertainment, which featured prominent Heineken and Allied Domecq placements. The channel also embeds brands into its vignettes and interstitials. Executives said they intend to be more aggressive in that area going forward, in both reality and scripted shows.
“A lot of advertisers have made it known that they’re looking for great integration ideas,” Mr. Lawenda said. “They want to be involved beyond spots and dots.”
Super Agent, produced by NBC Universal and hosted by National Football League All-Pro player Tony Gonzalez, focuses on Mr. Cody and his quest for an agent to represent him in the draft. He’s expected to be a first-round pick in the draft.
The prospects work to gain his trust through a series of tasks. In one challenge, the contestants meet with Reebok officials and pitch Mr. Cody as a brand spokesman. In another, they trick out a Pontiac GTO, trying to pick out custom features they think Mr. Cody would like. They also choose a charity that reflects the football star’s interest that will benefit from auctioning the car.
Throughout the series, Mr. Cody communicates with the prospects using the walkie-talkie feature on their Boost Mobile phones. He uses marketer's “Where you at?” tagline, and calls the contestants via cell phone when it’s time to send them packing.
Boost Mobile, which earlier this year hired Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency to represent the brand, has been featured in unscripted shows like Pimp My Ride and Made. The marketer also has been active in extreme sports, music and films.
Boost Mobile executives said they’re keen on TV shows that target a young urban demographic and show off their products’ key attributes.
“We look for ways to demonstrate the ‘chirp,’” said Trisha Bouzigard, Boost Mobile’s senior manager of entertainment marketing, referring to the distinctive sound that the walkie-talkie makes. “Our target demographic is about irreverent use, and people who want to live large.”
Reebok has extensive exposure in the series through its apparel, which Mr. Cody often wears, and through the show’s host, who is a Reebok endorser. Contestants met with two Reebok senior executives in pitching Mr. Cody as a spokesman, and footage from that challenge was shot at Reebok’s hospitality suite at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville.
“The timing was perfect, and the fit was great,” said John Lynch, Reebok’s vice president of sports marketing. “There are a lot of opportunities for integration these days, but not all of them make sense.”
Spike TV, which has struggled in the ratings with its original programming, is trying to grab viewers with male-targeted shows that have potential to cross over to a broader audience. The Joe Schmo Show was one of its few original hits since becoming Spike TV in 2003, but the series didn’t pull in audiences in its second season.
Doug Herzog, who runs Viacom sibling Comedy Central, took over as president of Spike earlier this year and has said he wants to invest in signature shows. Mr. Herzog has overseen a number of hits at Comedy Central, including South Park and The Daily Show.