Placements on UPN's 'Girlfriends' Target African-American Women

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LOS ANGELES -- Home Depot is building itself a new entertainment strategy. After going maianstream with high-profile shows like “Survivor,” “The Apprentice” and “The Contender,” the home improvement chain is favoring niche programs that will help it reach more targeted segments of consumers.
Photo: Ron Tom/UPN
In the episode, the UPN sitcom characters visit a Home Depot store and enroll in a 'Do It Herself' class.

An extensive brand integration into this week’s episode of “Girlfriends” on UPN points to Home Depot’s new strategy of trying to reach more minority audiences.

Drive-time radio plugs

The marketer, via its agency UniWorld, New York, received serious face time in the sitcom as characters visited a Home Depot store and enrolled in the chain’s “Do It Herself” class. As part of the integration, Home Depot used its own media to promote the show, plugging the characters' trips to Home Depot in drive-time radio spots in such major markets as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, L.A., New York and Philadelphia.

The move comes at a time when many marketers are re-evaluating the escalating top-dollar costs to integrate their brands into some network prime-time shows. As executives continue to try to figure out their return on investment in such high-profile deals, some are deciding it might not be worth the price.

It also signals a shift in what types of entertainment projects Home Depot has become interested in after the departure of John Costello as its chief marketing officer last August. Mr. Costello shepherded many of the company’s moves into entertainment, including brokering a multiprogram, multiyear deal with Mark Burnett Productions to get Home Depot into shows like “The Apprentice” and “The Contender,” among others. It already had a relationship with the company after having appeared in “Survivor.”

More relevant to multicultural market

But last year, Home Depot pushed to become more relevant to the multicultural market, said Roger Adams, the chain’s senior VP-marketing. There are a number of promotions and ads aimed at Hispanic consumers, but few focused on African-Americans.

In reviewing the media and marketing plan, Mr. Adams said, he and his team decided to beef up the outreach to African-Americans, trying to increase share of those consumers. Executives at UniWorld, part of WPP Group, recommended UPN in general and “Girlfriends” in specific. Buying agency Initiative was involved in bartering the deal.

It was a bonus for Home Depot that the show skews toward women, the prime target for the in-store classes.

The show’s producers came up with the story line, in which the main characters need odd jobs done around their houses. When their best male friend tries to help, disaster ensues. They make several trips to Home Depot and hilarity ensues until they end up in the “Do It Herself” class, with their hapless male friend in tow.

UniWorld worked with L.A.-based branded entertainment consultant Walter Reynolds, who acted as the brand's liaison with the production. He and Home Depot executives gave producers some brand attributes and priorities and "the producers just ran with it," Mr. Reynolds said. "They got it right away."

No parameters for producers

There were no parameters set on how much air time the brand would receive or how precisely it would be portrayed, and Mr. Reynolds thinks it worked out better that way.

"If you empower the producers, and the brand has given its blessing and told what it's looking for, the rest works itself out," he said.

UPN not only benefited from Home Depot’s involvement with the show, but also across the network. As part of the integration, Home Depot became a UPN advertiser for the first time. The marketer is now running spots across UPN’s entire schedule, which includes shows like “Everybody Hates Chris” and “America’s Next Top Model.”

UPN did not make the network’s executives available to discuss the deal.

But Home Depot is now in talks with UPN and other networks about integrating into more shows with niche audiences.

“In the past, we’ve done the big splash, mass-audience integrations,” Mr. Adams said. “Now, we’re interested in projects that are more targeted. There’s more upside for us in the underserved audiences.”

Still sold on 'The Contender'

To that end, Home Depot will stick with the boxing reality show “The Contender.” The show, which built up a loyal but small audience on NBC, will re-emerge this summer on ESPN. The marketer did research that found that the same ad shown during “The Contender” had more impact on viewers than when the same ad aired during other network programs.

The marketer “can really be important” in such a context, Mr. Adams said.

The same is true for Home Depot’s extensive integration into a Telemundo home improvement show “Mi Primer Hogar.” The deal, which kicked off in 2005, is ongoing.

“We’re looking for formats we can shine in,” Mr. Adams said. “We’re active in the space, but we’re focusing on areas we know work for us right now.”

Home Depot has considered building its own branded entertainment from the ground up. One such project put a film crew at the 24-hour Home Depot in Hollywood to capture the round-the-clock activities there and air them as a reality show. A pilot episode was produced, but executives decided not to move ahead on that particular show.
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