JC Penney Buys Into Family Friendly Show

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NEW YORK -- JC Penney is the latest retailer to buy into feel-good, family-friendly branded entertainment -- something Sears pioneered with its integration into ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Wal-Mart recently copied by sponsoring ABC’s The Scholar.
The comedy series follows two clueless fathers as they spend a week trying to replace Mom, who’s whisked away on a surprise visit to a spa.

The retailer, along with State Farm Insurance, Nissan North America and Clorox Co., will be integrated into NBC’s upcoming series Meet Mister Mom, produced by Omnicom Goup’s Full Circle Entertainment and Ben Silverman’s Reveille. The marketing foursome are all clients of Omnicom media agency OMD.

The one-hour comedy series, which debuts Aug. 2, follows two clueless fathers as they spend a week trying to replace mom, who’s whisked away on a surprise visit to a spa. The two fathers compete to see who does the better job of filling mom’s shoes, and the winning family receives a scholarship fund from State Farm. The dialogue is told from the perspective of the children.

'Heartwarming' show

Robert Riesenberg, president-CEO of Full Circle Entertainment, calls the show “heartwarming” and “an affirmation of family and a celebration of moms.”

JC Penney has previously tied its brand into Oprah and Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but “this opportunity runs deeper and incorporates us into the storyline in a way that’s more relevant,” said Michael Cape, vice president and director of brand marketing and graphic design at JC Penney. “What’s important, particularly for department store retailers, is to win the loyalty of consumers and you do that by letting them know you relate to their lives, that you understand them.”

Mr. Cape hopes the back-to-school timing of the show and the helpful, lighthearted manner in which the retailer is shown will accomplish those goals. In one episode, for example, a father goes to JC Penney to help his daughter pick out her first bra.

JC Penney is in the midst of shifting its marketing plan from a sales promotion effort to overall branding. Forty percent of the JC Penney’s in-store offerings are from its seven private-label brands -- and there will be an emphasis on several of those in the show, including Arizona Jeans and JC Penney Home Collection.

Up JC Penney's hipness

JC Penney also hopes the show will up the hipness of its image. “We wanted to embed the brand into current trends and entertainment and pop culture,” Mr. Cape said. “And this kind of programming is really hot.”

The retailer is bringing back its “Where is your mom?” campaign, created by Omnicom’s DDB Worldwide, for the show’s run. Unlike the Sears spots that run in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, JC Penny's humorous spots don’t feature actual footage from the show but are nonetheless “totally in line with the concept,” Mr. Cape said.

Meet Mister Mom is another example of an agency’s production company arm finding the right branded entertainment fit for its clients. It’s also not the first time Mr. Riesenberg and Mr. Silverman have worked together. In 2003 Mr. Riesenberg (then heading Magna Global Entertainment) and Reveille worked with Mark Burnett on NBC’s The Restaurant, the first season of which was considered a critical failure for the branded entertainment genre, thanks to awkward product placements and obvious sponsor plugs.

Game show format

The Restaurant was totally unscripted,” Mr. Riesenberg said. “[Meet Mister Mom] is more of a game show format, more controllable.” And, he added, "It's so much easier to deal with one person who gets it who can deal with all the clients."

That person he’s referring to is Guy McCarter, whose job is to get OMD clients into branded-entertainment projects.

“Each of the clients,” Mr. McCarter said, “was sensitive in that they didn’t want to demand too much, look forced or unnatural, or feel overexposed. They’re savvy enough to get it.”

They also understand they have a vested interest in the program’s success and have embarked on major co-promotional campaigns to help hype the show.

In-store advertising

JC Penney will advertise in its stores, which see 3 million shoppers a day during the high-traffic back-to-school shopping season, and will highlight the show in its sales circular.

Clorox is taking out multipage Meet Mister Mom advertorials in the August issues of six national magazines, including Martha Stewart Living, TV Guide and Latina. The advertorials feature “time-saving tips for moms” as well as products the company is integrating into the show, such as Glad Force Flex trash bags and Press’n Seal wrap. One of its 30-second commercials will include footage of the show and a message to tune in to the show. It’s also built an online microsite featuring video clips of expanded scenes and online streams of the show.

State Farm will promote the show with PR programs at the agent level -- it has more U.S. agents than McDonald's Corp. has storefronts, said Mark Gibson, assistant vice president for advertising -- and will run full-page ads in InsideTV magazine. Mr. Gibson said State Farm has a special affinity for branded entertainment because it considers itself one of the original players. “In the late '50s and early '60s we were the big sponsor of The Jack Benny Show,” he recalled. “We still show the video to new employees.”

Nissan ads

Nissan, meanwhile, has created a 30-second commercial and several third-page magazine ads, and is considering tune-in radio ads.

“We’re really kicking the promotional efforts up this time,” said Anne Hickey, vice president for marketing and communications at Clorox, which has previously integrated its products into Discovery’s Clean Sweep. “We’re trying to promote the show as much as we can."

Mister Mom has adopted a barter-based sales model similar to what was used for The Restaurant and, more recently, Bravo’s Blow Out, which was produced by Reveille and Magna Global Entertainment.

Producers waive the cash license fee normally paid by the network in exchange for half of the ad inventory and the rights to sell the integration. The four OMD clients will have advertising category exclusivity and will be the few brands featured in the program.

“We’re careful not to let other brands appear in shows because that jeopardizes NBC’s sales effort,” Mr. Riesenberg said. He said Julie Kantrowitz, Full Circle’s chief marketing officer and a former sales executive, helped them keep the network’s sales team top of mind when they’re producing the shows.

Branded entertainment funds pool

Last year OMD went on the road to talk to clients about branded entertainment and suggested they earmark ad dollars for such deals. The media buying giant created an eight-figure funding pool that would enable it be quick and nimble in investing in branded entertainment deals.

“We wanted them [marketers] to be able to react to opportunities as they came up,” said Debbie Richman, U.S. director of national broadcast at OMD. “And this was one of those opportunities that made sense.”
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