How Butterball Picked 'Top Chef' for First Integration

Thanksgiving Episode Was a Natural Fit for Turkey Maker

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CHICAGO ( -- Thanksgiving is turkey's time to shine, and this season Butterball, seeking to burnish its image beyond its beloved hotline, landed a starring role in the Thanksgiving episode of the Bravo reality series "Top Chef."

In Butterball's first-ever paid product integration deal, "Top Chef" contestants cooked competing Thanksgiving feasts for the rock band the Foo Fighters with little more than a microwave and a single burner. Of course they also used Butterball products wherever possible.

Butterball: From the cooler case to the small screen
Butterball: From the cooler case to the small screen
Let's 'young it up'
Andy Marks, general manager of sports and entertainment agency Matter, which handled Butterball's side of the deal, said his client had been looking for ways to reach younger consumers. Bravo's "Top Chef" may not exactly be "Gossip Girl," but Mr. Marks pointed out that the Foo Fighters' presence helped to "young it up."

"It was the perfect fit," he said. "It couldn't have been better, with the right brand, with the right products, at the right time for the right show." Butterball got in the door in what Mr. Marks described as a "six-figure" deal.

While numbers on the integration's success aren't in yet, did see an incremental bump in traffic. The site posted both teams' turkey recipes: the winner's, oven-roasted turkey with gravy; and the loser's, orange braised turkey breast with mushroom and caramelized shallot.

Viewers didn't have to be music buffs to get excited about the episode, either. The show also threw food aficionados a bone, with guest judge Grant Achatz, one of the country's hottest young chefs and a recent cancer survivor.

The right mix of ingredients
On the creative front, Ross Jacobson, chief operating officer of Magical Elves, which produces "Top Chef," said that he expects the Thanksgiving episode to be one of the fifth season's strongest. "For me, product integrations and even tradeouts can be such a headache, and you start to question along the way if all of the effort going into it is going to be worth what you're getting out of it," he said. "This is what integrations should be about."

Mr. Jacobson had heard Foo Fighter frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl say in an interview that when he wants to write a song, he picks up an acoustic guitar and turns on "Top Chef." So he had been looking for ways to get Mr. Grohl on the show for years. When an opportunity arose, Mr. Jacobson realized he would need a sponsor to afford moving his crew up to Rochester, N.Y., where they would meet the band at a concert. It being Thanksgiving, Butterball made sense. William Morris reached out to Matter on behalf of Magical Elves to get the ball rolling.

"When we heard there was going to be a Thanksgiving-themed episode on 'Top Chef' -- the No. 1 food show on cable [according to Bravo] -- we were interested in partnering with the show," said Bill Klump, Butterball's senior VP-marketing. "Butterball was integrated seamlessly into the episode, and we were able to showcase a number of our products."

Happy client
Mr. Klump added that Butterball was "thrilled with the final episode." After all, Butterball bacon, turkey and smoked turkey all got mentions from the chefs. Butterball sausage and cutlets were also pictured. And it turns out that Mr. Grohl is a fool for bacon. Mr. Klump said the company has nothing definite planned in terms of integrations for the coming year, but that they're certainly open to them.

This was a big year of firsts for Butterball, which has been known as a relatively staid marketer. Butterball added blogging capabilities to its website and "turkey texts" that allow consumers to get recipe advice in the grocery aisle.

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