|'Project Runway' is being extended by an episode and will be produced for other countries within the year.
BANANA REPUBLIC SPONSORS NEW REALITY TV SHOW
Fashion Design Competition May Be Paired With 'Queer Eye'
The extra episode airs Feb. 16 as a combination contestant reunion and competition recap, and a two-hour finale, up from one hour, is scheduled for Feb. 23.
"We're excited because the sponsors are getting one more episode and it prolongs people's sense of engagement," said Barbara Friedmann, vice president for marketing for Hachette Filipachi's Elle magazine, which is heavily involved in the show.
Steady rise in ratings
Project Runway, in which amateur fashion designers compete for a photo shoot in Elle, a mentorship at Banana Republic and $100,000 in seed money to create a collection, debuted Dec. 2 and has enjoyed a steady rise in ratings. Its 1.3 million viewers on Feb. 2 was 72% above its season average and gave Bravo its second-highest ratings of the season for adults ages 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, behind the premiere of the third season of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
The network attributes the show's ratings jump to word-of-mouth marketing and buzz centering on its recent runway show at New York's Fashion Week. "The growth is really exponential," Bravo's president, Lauren Zalaznick, said. "It's a classic case of 'Did you see this last night?' It literally exploded for us."
Single price tag
Project Runway was conceived in late 2003 by Miramax Entertainment, which licensed the show to Bravo, signed German supermodel Heidi Klum as an executive producer and host, and partnered with Elle to lend the show additional fashion credence. The team then pitched the concept to product sponsors, going after brands central to the world of fashion and design. Every proposal had a single price tag composed of three elements: a sponsorship/product integration fee paid to Miramax and two ad buys, one for airtime on Bravo and a print ad in Elle, which produced two advertorials featuring the show and it sponsors for the December and February issues.
"It's a great case study for the world of brand integration," said Lori Sale, executive vice president for worldwide promotions for Miramax, who lined up the show's sponsors -- Cotton Inc., Banana Republic, L'Oreal and Drexel Heritage furniture. "It wasn't a stretch to viewers, it wasn't a stretch for contestants, it wasn't a stretch for sponsors."
When she wanted a retail outlet broad enough for a national audience, but with a strong design sensibility, she approached Banana Republic. Her timing was auspicious.
Looking for a big idea
"We were in the midst of a creative RFP [request for proposal] process -- we were looking for a big idea for the brand," said Susan Greenleaf, director of media and media relations for Banana Republic. It was a risk for the retailer, which had never signed a sponsorship deal with so many aspects of product integration. "We were trying to create awareness of the fact that Banana Republic is a design-based brand with an excellent design team. The fashion community knows that but the consumers don't necessarily."
Anecdotally, Ms. Greenleaf said, the sponsorship has been a success. And there is some quantifiable evidence, too. The winning designer of one episode's Banana Republic design challenge was given the opportunity to sell a limited number of dresses at the retailer's flagship store and online. The dresses sold out in a matter of days.
For Cotton, the show has served double duty -- attracting the interest of women in their 20s and 30s, and also the fashion trade. "The program had a residual buzz all through the constituency, the fashion industry," said David Lerner, senior partner and associate director for television at WPP Group's media agency MindShare. Mr. Lerner negotiated the Cotton deal, which included a mid-December challenge to contestants to design a garment using only cotton. The episode showcased the fabric in a glowing light, highlighting its style, versatility and function.
But brand integration in reality TV is a big risk for many marketers, especially amid speculation that the genre is losing steam. "I was worried we might end up with something like The Restaurant, but it was not that way at all," said Elle magazine's Ms. Friedmann. "The show has exceeded expectations on many levels."
So much so that Miramax is taking the concept global. "We want to do the show around the world," Ms. Sale said, naming the U.K. and France as markets where the show will air "within the next six months." There will likely be a few different sponsors since some of the current U.S. ones, such as Banana Republic, lack an international presence.
Second season speculation
While there is speculation about a second season of Project Runway, nothing has been announced. The timing could be particularly tricky, since ideally the show would conclude during Fashion Week in February or September.
"We obviously love the show but we're really just focused on getting the last few episodes launched properly and ending with a big bang," Ms. Zalaznick said. If another season does materialize, there's no reason Miramax wouldn't approach the incumbent sponsors again, Ms. Sale said. "Everybody got along," she said. "It's like we dated, we got married and, so far, nobody's cheating on each other."