'Sure/Rexona Fans United' Was Created by MindShare and Apace Media

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LONDON -- Unilever has World Cup fever. The package-goods giant has launched a weekly TV series that leads up to the soccer tournament taking place in Germany this summer and taps into the sport's worldwide appeal.
'Sure/Rexona Fans United' was created by MindShare Team Unilever Europe and branded-entertainment production company Apace Media, which sees a chance to do similar series for other sports-obsessed fans.

Each half-hour installment of the 13-episode documentary series, “Sure/Rexona Fans United,” will be devoted to soccer fans and their attitudes and passion for the game. The shows, sponsored by Unilever’s deodorant body spray for men, will also look at superstitions, rivalries and all that goes into supporting a team.

The series, created with WPP Group’s MindShare Team Unilever Europe and branded-entertainment production company Apace Media, started airing in the U.K. on the ITV network in late March. Unilever is funding the production.

Unilever is not an official sponsor of the World Cup.

50-country run

But versions of the show will also air in Germany, Russia and Paraguay in the next few weeks. There are also plans to roll out the format in the soccer-loving nations of Europe, Latin America and Asia. In all, the series is expected to run in 50 countries.

“Fans United” becomes the first advertiser-funded production for Apace Media, which retains the format rights for the series. Apace has previously worked on campaigns for Nissan, McDonald’s Corp. and American Express.

Neil Osbourne, managing director of Apace Media’s Sports & Entertainment Television, is credited with coming up with the concept, which he developed with MindShare. Apace’s Steadfast Television produced the series.

As part of its deal with Apace, Unilever has the option to sponsor spinoffs of the show that Apace hopes might explore sports in the U.S., as well as obsessed rugby and cricket fans elsewhere in the world.

Although financial details of the series were not disclosed, the show is the first major global advertiser-funded programming initiative from Unilever.

Developed for a global scale

“Even from conception it was looked at on a global scale,” a Unilever spokesman said. “It’s really about looking at the consumers and delivering relevant content. This clearly positions Sure/Rexona as a brand not so much for the sportsman but as for those with a passion for following sport.”

Added Kate Marsh, director of entertainment in Europe for Group M, WPP's media-agency-holding unit: “This is a truly groundbreaking project in its scale and ambition. The result is universally appealing television programming which has the ability to engage viewers in markets around the world.”

The concept for “Fans United” came from Unilever's desire to have a TV show serve as the basis of a marketing program to promote its Sure/Rexona body spray among males.

“Football [soccer] is clearly relevant to the guys who use Sure/Rexona Sport for Men and taps into a global passion because it’s all about fans, not players,” Alan Rutherford, global media director at Unilever, said in a statement.

In addition to the TV series, the campaign includes a Web site and other nontraditional-media activity. The tagline, “Extreme protection that lets you go wild,” pulls together the whole communications campaign.

No product placement in U.K.

“Fans United” can be considered a breakthrough for branded entertainment, considering that programming produced by brands is still rare in the U.K., partly due to public cynicism about the content of such shows. Sure/Rexona branding appears on the break bumpers of “Fans United,” and the show is billed in U.K. TV listings as “Sure Fans United.” But within the show there is no product placement, which is officially banned in the U.K., although TV regulator Ofcom is currently looking at relaxing the rules on such deals and is expected to make an announcement this spring.

Apart from a Heinz-backed series called “Dinner Doctors” three years ago and the “Pepsi Chart Show,” advertiser-funded programming has been pretty much absent from mainstream TV in the U.K. On non-terrestrial television, advertiser-funded music programming has become popular, and Adidas has made a series for MTV. But “Fans United” is airing on the U.K.’s most-watched terrestrial commercial channel, ITV1.

“We’ll see a lot more shows like ‘Fans United’ rolling out,” Ms. Marsh said. “The business model is changing, and I’m sure we’ll be doing a lot more. From our clients’ perspective, the whole content arena is a really fantastic opportunity to engage with consumers.”
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