|Sprint-exclusive '24' content starring Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the show's main character, Jack Bauer, could be about six months away.
Sprint Nextel, the nation's No. 3 telecom, said traffic to its website has quadrupled and brand recall is up an average of 30% following a bundle of product placements, strategic ad buys and exclusive preview content from the Fox drama "24." The company said the exclusive content has also swayed more Sprint customers to use the data features on their phones.
Anita Newton, VP-media planning and integration, Sprint, said the buys, which rolled out at the end of the sixth season in January, have well exceeded the company's expectations. She added that with such success, Sprint-exclusive "24" content starring Kiefer Sutherland, who plays main character Jack Bauer, could be about six months away.
Sprint's precise relationship with the next season of "24" hasn't been announced.
Taking advantage of show's story lines
"24" has a history of pushing the envelope with product-placement and brand-extension deals, including several with seemingly conflicting brands. Still, the show has been an ideal choice for Sprint because of the constant need for mobile phones in the story lines.
Jack Bauer leads a shadowy counterterrorism unit that has 24 hours to avert a tragedy, and cellphones and other gadgets are constantly used by the fictional federal operatives. Sprint has done product placement in the show for all of its six seasons, starting in 2001.
"We like shows that organically fit with all of the things we feature -- GPS, video mail or watching news that's contextually important in the script," Ms. Newton said. (Sprint has also partnered with CBS's "Amazing Race.")
Sprint's deal includes use of its phones by "24" characters for conversations, data usage and finding locations using GPS. Sprint also purchased the first ads in the breaks immediately following such placements, and the company has used those ad opportunities to further highlight the products that make their way into the "24" storyline. After the show, Sprint offers an extended preview of the coming show on its website; customers can also access the previews on their phones.
'Get more pop with the audience'
"We thought we could complement the effort already behind it to get a little more pop with the audience," Denise Ocasio, Sprint's media buyer at WPP Group's MindShare Entertainment, said of augmenting the preexisting product placement. "Obviously, with the format of the show, the amount of time using cellphones, any integration we did would not be intrusive to viewers."
"24" gained attention for a "commercial-free" second-season premiere, sponsored by Ford. The show has since featured Ford vehicles in its programming. The drama has also partnered with Unilever to create an online series, "CTU Rookie," based on one of the show's characters. The series is sponsored by Degree Men deodorant.
The drama has also made money in the off-season, licensing a video game created by LG Electronics that featured LG phones. Toyota Motor Corp. financed an episode of the show, which portrayed events between seasons five and six, and Toyota vehicles made their way into the action on-screen. The special was only broadcast in Europe, but later bundled as a value-added element of the season five DVD set.
"To see Toyota end up doing integration means the producers have been successful at avoiding brand exclusivity," said Shaun Clark, an attorney with Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton in Los Angeles who recently represented WPP's JWT in creating a series of 80 interstitials for Unilever's Silkience which aired on TBS during "Love Bites." "Typically when you do a major deal with a car company like Ford, they will get exclusivity as the vehicle that's readily apparent in the show."
As for the LG video-game agreement, Ms. Newton said it's not a problem for Sprint because LG is a manufacturer, not a direct competitor.
Producers are excellent partners
While "24" has a reputation of pioneering product integration and brand extension, particularly for a scripted show, it's attractive because Fox and the show's producers are eager to forge these kinds of agreements and make excellent partners, Ms. Ocasio said.
The next frontier, Mr. Clark said, will be getting stars from hit shows to appear in exclusive content for advertisers, such as having Mr. Sutherland as Jack Bauer appear in a "24" scene only for Sprint customers. Mr. Clark said that's been cost prohibitive for advertisers thus far, but Ms. Newton predicted it will happen soon.
"You're going to see some carrier do that," she said. "It's going to happen this year."