In a Call to Marketers, a Tiny Candy Brand Prevails

Sour Patch Kids Gets Chance to Star in ABC Family's 'Kyle XY'

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The deal: ABC Family's fledgling drama "Kyle XY" went shopping for a brand after the network's ad-sales team read a scene from the script that called for the main character, is-he-or-isn't-he-an-alien Kyle, to be bribed into doing homework for another character. The team felt a real brand would make the scene more genuine.

The result: After an overwhelming response from marketers looking to integrate into the show, tiny Adams candy prevailed. Its Sour Patch Kids brand had prominent play in three episodes, snagging exposure with a desirable demographic of young teens and families, and sponsored an online game and video on its well-trafficked website. The show quickly became a breakout hit for the network, pulling in more viewers than any other of its original programs.

"E.T." had his Reese's Pieces. "Kyle XY" has his Sour Patch Kids.
Another way the integration worked: The sales team stepped back after the deal was done and let the writers have final approval on how the advertiser would appear in the show.

The title character, a teenager who may or may not be an alien, gets hooked on Sour Patch after eating the candy for the first time. It's part of his orientation into the modern world, as the mysterious Kyle educates himself by reading entire volumes of the encyclopedia and imitating slang he hears at school.

Needed a credible bribe

The seeds of the deal were sown in the script, which called for one young character to bribe the uber-smart Kyle into doing his homework for him. The ad-sales team at ABC Family realized there was an opportunity for a product in that scene that could then recur throughout the series.

Whatever motivated Kyle to do the work could perhaps become his frequent companion, executives figured.

Laura Nathanson, exec VP-ad sales at the network, said it's more genuine when the script lends itself to an integration and the ad sales team can then shop it to various marketers.

"It's just the opposite of what often happens -- a marketer wants a project, and we have to scan the scripts to see if there's anywhere they fit in," Ms. Nathanson said. "Here, we saw an opportunity and we went out to clients with it."

An overwhelming response

The response was a bit overwhelming, Ms. Nathanson said, because a number of advertisers were interested and various categories of products could've worked in the show. The integrated product could've been anything from a cellphone or video game to food or soda.

"The character was supposed to find something that's his nirvana," Ms. Nathanson said. "Because Sour Patch has this combination of sweet and sour, it worked to have him discover it."

With the timetable fairly tight, the sales team needed a marketer to step up quickly. Several did, but the relatively tiny Adams candy won over the ABC Family executives by being nimble and flexible. Adams, part of Cadbury Schweppes, has never done an integration before and had only advertised in small doses on ABC Family, but was willing to work across TV and online to create a solid program.

Sour Patch executives have relied heavily on alternative marketing to reach the so-called sweet spot of its demo, 12- to 17-year-olds, said Bill Higgins, Cadbury Adams' VP-marketing. The marketer was drawn to the fully integrated partnership elements for "Kyle XY."

"We were evaluating integration opportunities and heard that 'Kyle XY' was in the works," Mr. Higgins said. "All the components of the partnership fit the brand character and reached our target in the right ways."

Real-world product

The writers on the show, which became a breakout hit for the coveted 12- to 34-year-old demographic, were pivotal in making the integration work. They were familiar with Sour Patch, Ms. Nathanson said, and had fun weaving it into several episodes. In this particular case, using a real-world product had more credibility than a look-alike or a Brand X, she said.

Once the deal was made and the programming executives and writers were on board, the ad-sales team stepped back. It's best that way, Ms. Nathanson said, so the creative process can flow without interference from the business side. The writers had final approval on how the advertiser would appear in the show.

The approach has been working for the network, which has become a go-to destination for marketers that want to reach sought-after young viewers and their families. Mastercard linked with ABC Family for an original movie, "Relative Chaos," complete with in-content integrations and off-channel promotion, and OfficeMax linked with the channel and Walt Disney sibling Hollywood Records' Jesse McCartney for an early-fall special called "Schooled."

Beyond content integration

As part of the "Kyle XY" integration, Adams sponsored several episodes, an online game and video trailers on its website. The marketer also bought a significant amount of media across the channel, not just during the hit show. Adams, bought in 2003 by Cadbury Schweppes, is home to brands such as Trident and Bubblicious gums in addition to the well-known tangy Sour Patch line.

"Kyle XY" became ABC Family's most-watched original series in total viewers, adults 18-34, adults 18-49 and women 18-49. The season finale in August drew nearly 3 million viewers, topping its record-setting premiere audience of 2.67 million.

Sour Patch Kids, meanwhile, has "experienced strong growth" recently, though Mr. Higgins didn't provide exact sales figures. He did attribute some of that boost to the "Kyle XY" integration and other nontraditional strategies for the brand.

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