The Reality of Scripted Integration

Sitcoms and dramas present bigger obstacles

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% While the upfronts are still months away, don't think Madison Avenue and the TV industry haven't been talking. Negotiations are going deep into the winter nights as brands try to squirrel away every possible parcel of screen time they can for their brands on the boat load of reality shows set to bow this summer.

Since the lion's share of these projects will fail, everyone should be— if they're not already—looking toward a shift in emphasis back toward sitcoms and dramas for next fall. It's as if all of the experimentation in brand integration in the reality arena is a lead-up to facing the next frontier: the world of scripted television.

Hank Kim recently steered a discussion with two of the men who have broken a sweat in this emerging new playground: Steve Grubbs, the New York-based CEO of Omnicom media-services unit PHD North America, and Steven Melnick, senior VP-marketing at Los Angeles-based 20th Century Fox Television studio.

MV: With all of the product-integration opportunities on the two dozen reality shows on tap for this summer, will this create a "loosening" effect on the level of integration in the scripted realm?

SG: Regardless of whether the reality genre had exploded, the concept of product integration was coming anyway and maybe this pushes it forward a little faster.

SM: I think the mistake people likely will make is believing product integration will be as easy to execute as [it is] in reality programming. There's an anything-goes attitude in reality; you can pull away and blatantly advertise a product. In scripted TV, as in life, there aren't those kinds of organic opportunities to integrate an outside product in a way that doesn't distract from the viewing experience.

MV: Steve Grubbs, are your clients pushing you to do more integration in sitcoms and dramas?

SG: Generally, people are looking for different ways to build and promote the brand. One way is product integration or placement, but they're looking at it from what we can do to break through an overly cluttered environment.

MV: Steve Melnick, from your perspective as a studio guy, has the mind-set changed where there's more active courtship of advertisers in show development?

SM: With the business not getting any easier, there's certainly more interest and an awareness now than in past years of opportunities in aligning oneself with Madison Avenue. For these ideas to succeed, there has to be a win for the network, a win for the producer, and a win for the advertiser.

MV: Not to point the finger at any one group, but it seems that much of the recalcitrance comes from network sales. Is that accurate and if so, what can be done to bring them around?

SG: To Steve's point, you have three constituencies and there has to be something there for all three. I think the way to go is, No. 1, you have to find the natural fit between the right brand and the right program. You can't force the fit, but it's amazing how many people try…The thing that could be the incentive for the network is, first, you can obviously give them more money if you're an advertiser but secondly, you can help them promote the show, particularly if it's a new show. For example, if you're an advertiser with retail outlets, you can promote the new show in-store. You can promote it through your advertising. %%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%%

MV: Steve Grubbs, you've mentioned the movie guys as setting a good example.

SG: You can almost use the movie formula where as they launch a new movie, they look for a certain number of marketing partners to help. The only drawback there is that a lot of those movies are known products. I mean it's easy to do that with "Star Wars."

SM: In many ways the integration and marketing campaigns that surround the Bond movies are a great template for what we'd love to see happen in television, but of course, you have FCC rules and the network has to approve it, which they're not going to do for someone who is not already advertising on them. There is no incentive to piss off the people who are giving them tens of millions of dollars every year.

MV: Have the dynamics of pilot season been altered?

SM: It really is business as usual because again, the focus of the community has to be on creating the most compelling content or advertisers won't care. Right now, advertisers' business is concerts, specials, nine-episode reality shows where the message can be consistent. It's easy in and easy out. The big question for brand integration in scripted television is what is the appetite for advertisers to support scripted programming that could air for 100 episodes. That is a question that we haven't really seen answered by the advertising community.

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