Spreading secrets

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Victoria's Secret will soon bare what might well be a rare integration of ad messages into prime-time TV programming.

Intimate Brands' lingerie chain kicks off a holiday ad campaign Nov. 15 by taking its annual "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" to network prime time as a one-hour ABC special.

In addition to the ABC special, that same week Victoria's Secret models will be featured on "Spin City" in a storyline involving the sitcom's characters trying to get tickets to the fashion show. Models also will be contestants on a supermodel edition of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and are scheduled to appear on "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" and "The View," as well as NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

"Not P&G, not Coke or Pepsi" has put together a network programming buildup "exceeding five hours" as Victoria's Secret has, said Ed Razek, president-brand and creative services, Intimate Brands.

ABC hopes the fashion show, running during the November sweeps, will spike Thursday night viewership, currently a distant third. The program competes with others featuring scantily clad women, Fox's "Temptation Island 2" and CBS's "Survivor: Africa."

The program results from an unusual advertising/program arrangement. Executives close to the network said the deal is virtually a barter arrangement in which ABC and Victoria's Secret split the show's advertising time, with the retailer holding the majority of the ad slots. Victoria's Secret will cover production costs, using Joel Gallen, producer of shows such as the "MTV Movie Awards," while ABC won't pay a fee for the show.

Since the program will be taped during a live fashion show in New York's Bryant Park two days before airing, Mr. Razek expects sponsors and censors will not have problems with the finished product.

New York City officials urged the retailer to proceed with the show following the terrorist attacks, Mr. Razek said. Consumers also, he said, "want romance and fun" to remain in their lives.

Victoria's Secret will have title sponsorship in the show, while ABC retains only a small number of ad slots. Some executives believe few marketers will buy time on a program clearly labeled for another marketer, and said it is unlike buying time in network or media sponsored programs such as the "VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards."

Some program analysts, in fact, believe the show, which features only Victoria's Secret lingerie on the runway, is actually more of an infomercial. Not so, said Andrea Wong, VP-alternative series/specials for ABC. "Clearly this is more than just an infomercial," she said. "You will see Victoria Secret product but also entertainment in the show." The entertainment includes Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli as a musical guest as well as profiles of the models.

Walt Disney Co.'s ABC will produce promos for the Victoria Secret show, but the retailer won't make a separate ABC advertising buy. The retailer, however, will place ads promoting the show in more than six magazines, and in outdoor venues and direct mail.

In previous years, the runway show was broadcast on the Internet and drew record-breaking audiences for the fledgling media where flickering Internet video output lacked broadcast definition. Once tied to Valentine's Day, the fashion show for the first time this year will be used to promote Christmas sales.

The retailer, with 887 lingerie and 471 beauty stores, also launches this week a campaign shot by Michael Bay, director of "Pearl Harbor," featuring the company's latest bra line. Even before the terrorist attacks, Intimate Brands was experiencing declining year over year sales at stores open for more than one year.

See the spot: AdAge.com QwikFIND AAM67R.

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