YORK, Pa. -- Superheroes joining forces -- what could be a better product integration? That's what happened last week on Sci Fi Channel's "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" when guest hero Erin Esurance, the animated secret agent spokes-icon for online insurer Esurance, appeared in guest spots throughout.
Erin Esurance Swoops Into Sci Fi Channel Show
Insurer's Animated Icon Helps "Superhero" Contestants Save the Day
Esurance's animated secret agent spokes-icon, Erin Esurance, issues
weekly challenges to the reality show's Superhero
Erin Esurance issued weekly challenge to the reality show's Superhero wannabes and returned throughout the program with clues, directions and updates. Her initial challenge to the group? Defeat villain Dr. Dark who had stolen a $50,000 donation check from Esurance for its environmental charity "Friends of the Urban Forest."
'Save some green'
The animated Erin appeared to the candidates via TV monitor, advising them to "save some green" in recovering the check for the cause. If the check was recovered, it would be donated (for real) to the charity and the winning hero would get immunity from elimination that week.
It was the first time Esurance has done product integration with its brand character -- Erin was created in 2004 for a TV commercial -- and it was a first for Sci Fi too: The net had never integrated a brand into content.
"On a qualitative level, [the integration] performed in spades in that it felt like a seamless part of the show, and added entertainment value," said Adam Stotsky, Sci Fi Channel's senior VP-marketing.
Esurance's goal was to highlight its secret-agent superhero brand icon, while also reinforcing its environmental and charitable involvement. Sci Fi obliged by building last week's plot around all three.
Kristin Brewe, Esurance director of brand and public relations, said, "As fans of the show ourselves, we knew this was a perfect place for Erin, and knew it wouldn't feel forced like some integrations can. ... After seeing the finished episode, we think that this was a great integration as Erin really works as a character in the wonderfully original plot of this episode."
Criticism from bloggers
Not everyone, however, seemed as convinced. Several bloggers and show fans pointed out the integration after airing, noting the insert as obvious.
"What does annoy me is that Stan immediately turns the screen over to Erin E-surance,(sic) that pink-haired cartoon you see in the commercials. She basically gives a mini-commercial, and I snicker thinking of the heroes gathering corporate sponsorships,'" wrote senior producer Andy Grieser, at Tribune Media Services' Zap2it.com TV blog "From Inside the Box."
And on a RealityInsiders.com recap, reviewer Darlene quips: "It's quite obvious the supervillain they'll be battling today is overt product placement."
The Erin Esurance character also starred in bumper spots leading in and out of commercial breaks during the show, facing the camera and saying, "Saving the world is hard, but saving money is easy with Esurance."
The integration continues online with the character hosting the show's weekly "super-hint," providing information about each upcoming episodes of "Superhero." The concept for the integration was developed jointly by Sci Fi and Esurance's in-house ad creative team. The media placement agency was Havas' MPG.