Madison & Vine: Unilever, Ironman link for NBC reality special

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On the heels of NBC's "The Restaurant," the network is locking and loading another piece of advertiser-supplied programming for October-this time from Unilever's Degree antiperspirant.

Adhering to the emerging strategy in a cluttered and fragmented media marketplace that it's better to "own" rather than "rent" content, Unilever will be doing a time-buy on the peacock network Oct. 11 for "Degree Road to the Ironman." The program is a one-hour reality special chronicling the exploits of a group of triathletes as they prepare and train for the Ironman competition.

"The two brands are like peas in a pod," said Allison Harmon, manager-marketing communications for Degree. The product is targeted at men with the bull's-eye being those aged 18-25.

The TV special, developed in conjunction with Omnicom Group's Tattoo DDB, Chicago, and Banjo Strategic Entertainment, San Francisco, evolved from a deal in February. Degree signed an exclusive, multi-year North American licensing agreement with Ironman Properties. The agreement includes such components as a national contest in which the winner receives six months of training and salary reimbursement to prepare for an Ironman triathlon. It also includes a Degree Ironman line of five products, including three new scents: Extreme Blast, Sport, and Cool Rush.

"The brand personality is `never say die' and we identified Ironman as the platform embodying that idea," said Karen Baker, Tattoo DDB VP-sponsorship marketing.

The Ironman platform is meant to complement Degree's current ad campaign from DDB, Chicago, with the theme "Kicks in the Clutch." According to TNS Media Intelligence/ CMR, Unilever put $26.7 million in paid ads behind the Degree brand in 2002.

General Electric Co.'s NBC Sports has broadcast the Ironman competition-this year's race takes place on Oct. 18 and will be broadcast Dec. 6 in prime time-for the past 11 years.

The network left the creative development of the TV special in the hands of Tattoo DDB and Banjo, who walked NBC through a rough treatment at the outset. Unilever paid for production.

The company also negotiated 100% of the ad inventory-being sold through WPP Group's MindShare, Unilever's media buyer, and through Tattoo DDB sibling OMD-and an undetermined number of network tune-ins that will run one week prior to the airing of "Degree Road to the Ironman." The show will re-air on NBC's cable network Bravo Dec. 5.

`subtle integration'

In the show, two Ironman professionals put three amateur triathletes through their paces in Hawaii. Much of the show revolves around the conflict and competition occurring at the house where the athletes live. The show will also include "subtle integration" of the Degree brand.

Banjo co-founders Ron Walter and Pat Madden are executive producers and the driving creative force on the project. Yann Debonne, veteran TV showrunner, is also an executive producer on "Degree Road to the Ironman."

contributing: alice z. cuneo

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