A Feast of Free Product Placement for Chef Revival

Obscure Culinary Haberdasher Hits the Big Time in 'Hell's Kitchen'

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The deal: With product placements on the rise on television, marketers are turning to services like Nielsen Place Views to track which brands are seen the most by viewers.

The result: Not what you’d expect. In recent weeks, a restaurant that doesn’t exist and apparel that isn’t marketed to the general consumer have topped the charts.

LOS ANGELES -- If you had to quickly name the brands you thought were placed the most in television shows, you’d probably come
'Hell's Kitchen' star chef Gordon Ramsay with the Chef Revival logo that has become a ubiquitous part of the show.

up with a car company, maybe a fast food chain or even a sports apparel brand, right?

Think again.

According to product-placement tracking service Nielsen Place Views, the top two brands over the past several weeks have been Hell’s Kitchen, the restaurant featured in the second season of Fox’s hit reality show of the same name, and Chef Revival, the maker of chef jackets worn by the contestants in the show.

Hell's Kitchen dominates

Nike ranked third the week of June 12-18, with Abercrombie & Fitch placing third the week of June 26-July 2 -- by a lot. Hell’s Kitchen dominated the first week with 236 occurrences on the show and 36 mentions by name over two telecasts. In the second week, it had 286 occurrences in another two broadcasts of the show. Nike appeared 34 times in five broadcasts and Abercrombie appeared 54 times in six episodes over the same weeks.

Overall, “Hell’s Kitchen” featured brands 418 times over two episodes June 12-18, and 506 times over June 26-July 2 in another two airings, topping product-filled shows such as “Treasure Hunters,” “Fear Factor” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The series coming closest during that timeframe was “Fear Factor,” with 175 brand placements, according to Place Views.

Hell’s Kitchen and Chef Revival were regulars on Nielsen Place Views charts last year as well, when “Hell’s Kitchen” aired its first season.

The numbers are impressive. But should Hell’s Kitchen and Chef Revival even be counted as product placements?

Not a real restaurant

Take Hell’s Kitchen, for example. It’s not a real restaurant in Los Angeles. It just plays one on TV.

Visit the show’s location, and you’ll find a former local TV studio that was converted into a makeshift restaurant and dorm for the contestants just for the filming of the series.

As for the chef jackets seen in the show, they’re sold primarily to professionals in the restaurant industry and not meant for the average consumer. Additionally, Chef Revival, a 20-year-old company based in Lodi, N.J., outfits the chefs at the White House and on Air Force One.

The appearance of Chef Revival’s jackets in “Hell’s Kitchen” wasn’t a paid placement. The brand has a brief "promotional consideration" tag at the end of the show, which doesn't mention its website or any other information about the company.

When producers of "Hell's Kitchen" came calling for the first season of the show, the marketer's general manager, Kim de la Villefromoy basically said, "Take whatever you want."

He was willing to tweak a design or create something specifically for the show, but producers picked from his ready-made line, complete with Chef Revival checkerboard logo. Some networks sensitive to product placement often strip off logos, particularly if the marketer isn't an advertiser. Chef Revival has been in that position numerous times.

Uniforms and cutlery as stars

But when Mr. de la Villefromoy watched the first episode of "Hell's Kitchen," he was thrilled that his products, including chef uniforms and cutlery, were plastered throughout. "I said, 'Bingo!' They didn't even take off the logo," Mr. de la Villefromoy said.

Nielsen’s methodology is fairly simple: It counts the number of times a brand appears in a show that airs during primetime across all of the major broadcast networks, as well as cable channels A&E, TLC, MTV, HGTV, Bravo and several PBS programs. In comparison, rival IAG tracks consumer recall generated by a placement in a program.

Nielsen said it doesn’t choose which brands are counted. “We monitor all brand occurrences on those networks,” said Kerry Kielar, director of marketing communications at Nielsen Media. “There’s no choice.”

Ms. Kielar added that Hell’s Kitchen, the restaurant, was chosen because it’s a brand in the show.

But where should the tracking stop? If a fictional restaurant is counted, why not track the brands of tires that appear on cars placed in programming? Surely the executives at Goodyear wouldn’t mind the additional exposure. Or how about which brand of pen people are using? Papermate wouldn’t mind, either. Those products usually don’t make the product placement lists.

They could, however, according to Nielsen, if they made themselves noticeable enough. “All brands are captured,” Ms. Kielar stressed. “We capture it all. We just report what the brand is.”

Putting Chef Revial on consumers' radar

Ironically, Nielsen Place Views may be helping place Chef Revival on consumers’ radar. The appearance of the brand on the company’s charts each week “Hell’s Kitchen” airs has generated considerable publicity for the marketer.

Chef Revival's vendors and distributors are also starting to mention the show, he said, and he believes it's raising the company's profile in general. He hasn't noticed a bump in sales that could be attributed to the reality show, but he's not really tracking it.

"It's brand reinforcement," Mr. de la Villefromoy said. "We feel like there are some long-term far-reaching benefits."

Those include starting to sell products at high-end retailers such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. Some Chef Revival products have also hit shelves at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's.

Chef Revival won’t suddenly become a big media spender, and will continue to focus on product placement on targeted cable channels like the Food Network and sponsorship of trade shows and cooking competitions.

Expanding to off-air promotions

But expect to see more Chef Revival on “Hell’s Kitchen” in the future. Mr. de la Villefromoy has just started to approach the show's producers and Fox about being more involved off-air. He's asked about "Hell's Kitchen" branded merchandise and using his association with the show to promote his products, maybe with stickers on packages and mentions on his website. He's waiting to hear their reaction.

Mr. de la Villefromoy realizes he's in an elite company of marketers that spend mightily to be in entertainment content. He's playing with the big boys without having to pay to be there.

"I realize we're a bit of an anomaly," he said, "and we're delighted."
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