My Network TV Gives Sponsors Script Approval for Brand Integrations

Characters on Telenovelas Chat Up Products as Part of Storylines

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LOS ANGELES -- My Network TV's telenovelas are in English, but the soapy melodramas have a level of brand integration rarely seen outside their Spanish-language TV precursors.
Characters on My Network TV's 'Fasion House' say things like: 'It's Maybelline New York Shiny-licious lip gloss. You know men can't resist shiny lips.'

Early sponsors, including Maybelline New York and Garnier Fructis, have landed airtime for their products and logos on the News Corp.-owned network that is unmatched in scripted programming anywhere on the U.S. dial. An upcoming deal with Wal-Mart will give the retailer major prime-time exposure for its Metro 7 clothing line.

A new product-placement paradigm?

Industry watchers wonder if the deals could become a template for TV integrations at a time when advertisers are demanding more bang for their buck and viewers are increasingly tough to reach with traditional spots.

In addition to the extensive integrations, My Network TV is considering content-wrap-style interstitials that would feature actors from the dramas touting sponsor brands. The network also uses footage of the integrations as on-air promotions, creating a commercial-within-a-commercial that airs frequently throughout the day.

"We're taking the product we have and making it enticing," said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television and one of the executives heading the new network. "But we don't want it to look like Nascar, and neither do the advertisers."

Maybelline and Garnier Fructis, both owned by L'Oreal, have almost "Apprentice"-style placement in the soap "Fashion House," which stars Bo Derek and Morgan Fairchild.

Characters mention the brands by name and rave about product attributes. One storyline revolves around creating an ad campaign for Garnier Fructis, with models on the fictional show squaring off over who will get the job. For their tryout they have to wash their hair in front of two brand "executives." Distinctive green bottles of Garnier Fructis products are clearly visible, and the models remark on how good the shampoo smells, a key selling point for the brand.

The telenovelas draw a largely Hispanic audience, a growing demographic that's prized by many health and beauty advertisers.

Several "Fashion House" episodes include prominent mentions of Maybelline, which one character says gives her skin "that healthy glow." Ms. Derek's character stages a charity auction to raise money for the Maybelline scholarship fund, "a cause that's very dear to my heart," she says during the episode as she stands in front of a giant Maybelline logo.

'A new level of integration'

The marketer is "thrilled about the partnership," said Cheryl Vitali, senior VP-marketing at Maybelline and Garnier. She said the deal "represents a new level of integration, especially given the receptivity to incorporating our brands" into the scripts.

The integrations, bartered by Zenith Media, help "reinforce the brand attributes in a way that passive placements don't," said Kris Magel, senior VP-national broadcast. "You want it to work like your advertising works, as opposed to a just a glam shot.

"The amount of integration was more significant than we expected," Mr. Magel said. "We think the show did a very good job of positioning the brands."

Marketers review the scenes before they air and have the chance to tweak the way their brands are shown, which is nearly unprecedented in scripted or reality shows on American TV.

"It does give us a leg up when we're talking to clients," said Dave Barrington, My Network TV's senior VP-general sales manager. "This is a collaborative process."

Newness could be an advantage for My Network TV, said Shari Anne Brill, VP-director of programming at Carat USA.

"Product integration is being built in from the beginning, rather than being wedged in by ad sales after the fact," Ms. Brill said. "If it works thematically, advertisers will want to be part of it."

Latin American telenovelas are somewhat legendary for their brand-integration deals, which include setting shows in ad agencies to make them more brand-friendly. A Mexican telenovela called "Rebelde" has packed in a paid integration every half-hour during its three seasons, amounting to some 200 advertisers.

My Network TV's unique position

My Network TV is unique among U.S. channels because it wholly owns its programming, while most major networks do not. Executives buy the scripts of successful Spanish-language shows and translate them into English. The network airs original episodes five nights a week for 13 weeks. It can shop brand-integration opportunities to marketers without having to work with an outside production company or studio that might not go along with the deals.

Mr. Barrington said his team works closely with the network's programming executives to see where marketers can fit into the shows organically. "We don't just do everything that's put in front of us," he said.

For Maybelline and Garnier Fructis, there's been some significant face time.

In a scene between two girlfriends, one puts lipstick on the other. "What color's that? It's cute," one says. "It's Maybelline New York Shiny-licious lip gloss. You know men can't resist shiny lips."

Another exchange has one character telling her friend that she's irresistible to her new boyfriend. "Maybe it's that great peach lip gloss you have on." The other answers: "It's yours. It's Maybelline New York."

A model on the show finds out a photographer friend has been chosen to shoot a Garnier Fructis ad campaign. "Why didn't you tell me?" she says. "You know I use their products all the time."

The photographer tells two models who are trying out for the ad campaign that Garnier Fructis' executives are looking for models with "strong, shiny, healthy hair for their new line of Sleek & Shine shampoo and conditioner." He then stages a shampoo-off.

Deals include network ad buys

Network executives declined to say how much the integrations cost, and they said there's no standard way the deals are structured. For Maybelline and Garnier, the integrations have been included in media buys on the network, with some interstitials during the ad breaks. Marketers have been paying between $20,000 and $35,000 for 30-second spots, though some media buyers have reported paying less because of the network's slow start.

The approach is all part of understanding the current climate, Mr. Barrington said.

"It's very apparent that the business has changed and it's now a joint effort," he said. "We're trying to make our clients' product move off the shelf."

The strategy has helped My Network TV draw in retail behemoth Wal-Mart, which will integrate its Metro 7 clothing line into the upcoming soap "Watch Over Me," launching in December. The new show hits at a pivotal time for holiday shopping.

Wal-Mart's promotional deal

Wal-Mart will promote "Watch Over Me" in its stores, online and in print. The retailer already had a relationship with model-actress Dayanara Torres, who stars in the show. She and other cast members will wear the clothing on air, and Ms. Torres will appear in Metro 7 promo spots on the network. Wal-Mart is in talks with My Network TV for media buys.

There are integration deals in the works for another new show, "Wicked, Wicked Games," starring Tatum O'Neal.

My Network TV, which launched about two months ago, has been struggling in the ratings but plans to boost its outdoor, online, cable, in-store and print marketing. Executives also may tone down some of the bodice-ripping adventures on the shows after getting feedback from female viewers who say they'd rather see more romance.
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