'Primped' Becomes First Original Series for Third Screen

With Boom Expected in Video-Enabled Cellphones, Marketers Think Content

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LOS ANGELES -- Brand integration is hitting the third screen and, for the first time, marketers will be stitched into the fabric of an original series created specifically for cellphones that follows three 20-somethings as they get makeovers.

GoTV marketing exec Elizabeth Brooks says the mobile market is 'very nascent' and that 'many marketers want to be in mobile, and they need it translated for them.'

Producers of the unscripted beauty makeover series, called "Primped," have created 30 episodes that they could repurpose for any number of other platforms, including TV and the web, if it proves popular on cellphones.

Marketers including Conair, Union Bay, Dollhouse, Samsonite, Converse and Vespa are taking part in the series, which is hosted by supermodel and FHM cover girl Vida Guerra. It's aimed at young women, though creators expect to also draw in male fans of Ms. Guerra, who's on the cover of the current Playboy and has become an internet staple.

Episodes come with VOD feature

"Primped" will run in two- to four-minute installments that will be released once a day to subscribers who pay a flat $6.99 fee. The program will be available over Sprint, Nextel and Boost mobile networks. Consumers can watch the episodes whenever they want, via an on-demand feature.

A number of marketers are experimenting with mobile content, though it's often been confined to contests, games or repurposed material from ad campaigns. At the same time, a few TV producers and networks have created mobile-specific offshoots of popular shows, such as Fox's "24" and "Prison Break," and just began adding advertisers as sponsors.

"Primped," though, is believed to be the first fully realized series for cellphones with brand integration.

"It's very nascent right now," said Elizabeth Brooks, exec VP-marketing at GoTV, a mobile content creator that's one of several partners behind "Primped." "So many marketers want to be in mobile, and they need it translated for them."

Marketers paid an undisclosed integration fee to be part of "Primped" and provided products that are highlighted during the episodes. Some of the integration partners are participating in related promotions. Teen apparel marketer Dollhouse, for instance, is running a contest so viewers can text message to try to win $5,000 in merchandise.

Three companies worked together on "Primped" -- GoTV; Zingy, which specializes in ringtones, wallpapers and other cellphone content; and Matrixx, a Hollywood production company with a track record in branded entertainment.

A platform for the centerfold

Executives at Zingy already worked with Ms. Guerra on wallpaper and other mobile content and wanted to extend her footprint further into the mobile world. They looked to GoTV to help refine and produce a concept. Matrixx brought in marketing partners and helped integrate brands into the series.

Once executives had an idea, they approached production as if it were a TV series, with some notable exceptions. Editing for the two-inch screen is much different -- no nighttime shots or busy backgrounds -- and products need a call out in order to be clear in such a tiny environment.

"We made sure there was clear signage and that the brands were merchandised on the set," said Van Vandegrift, executive producer at Matrixx. "And you have to include verbals where you say the brand's name out loud because it's a story point."

Products were woven in based on fashion challenges, where the three makeover candidates had to pick out clothes and accessories, as well as makeup and hair stylings. The winner receives $20,000 worth of goods from the sponsors.

Producers followed guidelines specific to the wireless world. GoTV's research has shown that consumers respond best to two- to four-minute episodes, instead of shorter stories, and need to see new content more than once a week, as some early experiments had done.

There are about 2 million subscribers to mobile-video services, according to estimates from wireless carriers and industry groups. While the number may seem small, it's expected to increase exponentially in the coming years as technology improves.

Rise of video-enabled cellphones

Industry executives point to these statistics as a harbinger of things to come. In spring 2005, of the 180 million handsets in the U.S. there were only 350,000 cellphones with video capabilities. In about a year, that number jumped to 205 million cellphones, with 4 million being video enabled. By the fourth quarter of next year, there are expected to be 30 million video-enabled cellphones.

Dollhouse has had a long history of product placement on TV, frequently popping up on MTV, the WB and other young-skewing networks. The brand has been integrated more fully into shows such as UPN's "America's Next Top Model."

Executives at the marketer said they've been diving deeper into the web, building out its site to mimic popular social-networking sites. They've set their sights on mobile marketing, including a deal with Lucky magazine that will let consumers buy their merchandise via text messaging. They moved quickly when they were approached about the "Primped" project.

"We've been pushing toward more tech-based advertising," said Aretha Sarfo, founder of Visions Entertainment and Publicity, Dollhouse's agency that worked on the deal. "And a makeover show is perfect for our demo."

Cheaper than creating own content

It made more sense, Ms. Sarfo said, for Dollhouse to integrate into someone else's original content as oppose to creating its own, which could be cost prohibitive.

Entertainment for the cellphone, like other digital platforms, is attracting lots of marketer interest.

Fox's "24" was a groundbreaker in the area, creating "24: Conspiracy," a series of two-minute mobisodes. The series didn't have a brand-integration element or sponsor. "Prison Break: Proof of Innocence," which ran for six mobisodes this spring, included Toyota's Yaris as a sponsor. A character in the story also drove a Yaris.
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