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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Here's the situation for The Situation: Advertisers may want to work with you and your pals, but you'll have to keep your act clean.
A published report has Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, the ostensible leading man of MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality series, earning as much as $5 million a year from his on-camera role and the marketing, um, hook-ups to which it might give rise. While Mr. Sorrentino's representative did not return phone calls seeking confirmation of this figure, branding consultants and other experts said he had better strike while the iron's hot. The advertising life of a reality-show figure can be brief if not managed properly.
In MTV's view, "Jersey Shore" is a certified phenomenon. The property is its biggest cultural hit in eight years, said Chris Linn, MTV's exec-VP of production. "'The Osbournes' was the last time we had outrageous personalities who were part of the zeitgeist and made an imprint on pop culture," he said.
But crafting a long-term string of endorsement deals from a reality-show perch "takes strategy and creativity and hard work," said Jordan Yospe, a former general counsel for Mark Burnett Productions, the producer of such hit reality programs as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," and now counsel for law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips. The necessary work ethic, however, is in perhaps surprisingly short supply.
"Not only is someone making money, but the brands really benefit and the actor's brand benefits as well," said Mr. Yospe. "Most people that I've come across don't want to put in the work to make that happen."
Just a 'friend of the brand'?
Mr. Sorrentino has already lent a boost to such marketers as Reebok and Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater. But his help so far has been limited to appearances in "viral" videos. Both companies say the man with the great abs is just a "friend of the brand," and has not been compensated -- although Reebok has given him free Zig footwear for use in his training routine, said Reebok spokeswoman Jenny Shanley.
And that's the problem that branding consultants said The Situation, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Jennifer "JWOWW" Farley and their pals could have: Blue-chip marketers may keep the cast at arm's length rather than wrap them in a bear hug.
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"I have a tough time seeing them pop up as the face of a serious and major ad campaign that going to be getting a lot of TV time," said Matt Fleming, director of the talent division of The Marketing Arm, part of Omnicom Group.
Sure, the group is assured of snatching all the usual low-hanging fruit -- insta-books, perfumes, costumes and quickie ads that cash in on their current fame. For that sort of thing, the sky's the limit. Even a quick Super Bowl ad cashing in on their notoriety isn't beyond their reach, ad experts suggest.
One and done?
"The show is doing great in the ratings , so there are viewers that will appreciate endorsements from the cast if they're honest about why they are aligned with a product -- hair gel, self-tanners, condoms, spirits, pasta, mobile phones, deodorants, etc.," said Mike Wiese, director-branded content and entertainment at JWT, New York. "Ultimately, a brand that doesn't take itself too seriously could make a partnership work."
When it comes to attracting the notice of staid advertisers such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, General Mills or Kellogg on a sustained, long-term basis, however, the cast may have a heady workout on its hands. "Clearly, the 'Jersey Shore' cast has many qualities major brands will avoid, like public intoxication and casual sex," Mr. Wiese said.
"I don't think you're going to see them leveraged in the traditional manner or become more of a standing kind of spokesperson," said Jamie King, co-president, Euro RSCG Chicago. Use of the cast is likely to concentrate in "one offs" that use their current fame for immediate relevance.
Marketers' first-season jitters
Advertisers have already taken issue with the group. Dell, American Family Insurance and Domino's Pizza were among those who pulled ads from the show's first season, citing concern with being associated with a program that promoted ethnic stereotypes.
But MTV believes those worries have faded among marketers that want to reach the second season's viewers. "I think we've moved past the initial concerns and commotions from season one, and advertisers are viewing it as what it can be for them -- a massive opportunity to connect with audiences," said Dan Lovinger, senior VP-ad sales and integrated marketing at MTV.
Household products, retail, technology and quick-service restaurants have been the most in-demand ad categories for the show's second season. Some marketers, such as Sony Pictures, have even signed up for integrated deals, enlisting the cast for on-air vignettes to plug movies such as "The Other Guys."
MTV's own 'Jersey Shore' products
MTV is also doing its part to cash in on the cast's popularity. The network has already licensed "Jersey Shore" clothing, beach towels and other beach products; a soundtrack that recently debuted at No. 55 on the Billboard 200; and forthcoming products such as a "GTL" book (that's "Shore" speak for "Gym, Tan, Laundry") coming from Simon & Schuster. That's not to mention Halloween sundries that include Snooki's popular "pouf" and The Situation's washboard stomach.
Even when cast members such as The Situation are approached by marketers or other companies for brand extensions, MTV said it tries to work with the cast's talent reps to determine how they should handle each opportunity. "If it's something that enhances the 'Jersey Shore' franchise or experience of watching the show on our air, then it's something we'd like to be a part of," said Mr. Linn. "If it's something that feels outside of the franchise and not directly connected, that's something they can pursue on their own."
But can Snooki on her own do the job for a broader marketing initiative? One media executive familiar with handling controversial personalities thinks the task is not as hard as others might imagine. To be sure, the possibility of backlash exists, said Joel Hollander, the former CBS Radio chief who worked with Don Imus and Howard Stern and now runs an advisory firm. But hot-button figures "can probably move a lot of product," said Mr. Hollander, if "you want to put them in the right arena."