Verizon Wireless won a four-way scrum among the nation's biggest telecommunications marketers -- Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T -- to nab its multimillion-dollar role in "Gossip Girl."
Reluctant to talk
Since admitting to one's desire to be in with the in-crowd is unseemly, those who didn't get invited to the party were understandably reluctant to talk about it. AT&T's wireless unit looks at a "variety of opportunities," said a spokesman, while T-Mobile said it "had no information" about looking at "Gossip Girl." Sprint executives were unavailable to comment. The winner, naturally, was gracious in victory. "I can understand there being an appetite for a partnership with 'Gossip Girl,'" said Lou Rossi, Verizon Wireless' director-media and sponsorships.
So will viewers. The wealthy Manhattan teens at the center of "Gossip Girl" routinely use Verizon Wireless phones to talk to friends, send text messages, and even locate a seedy gambling den. Each character has his or her own phone, with Serena van der Woodsen -- the show's queen bee -- using a blue LG Chocolate 2.0; rival Blair Waldorf makes do with an orange EnV. Serena's not-so-well-to-do suitor, Dan Humphrey, sports a Motorola Krzr.
Where placing a can of soda on a table or a cellphone in a character's hand might have sufficed for a brand-integration deal in the past, advertisers, networks and studios are now constructing more complex, intricate deals in which appearances of products on-screen are simply one element of a much larger effort. One reason "Gossip Girl" placement was so desirable was the depth of marketing tie-ins the show afforded. Verizon Wireless phones offer exclusive "Gossip Girl" content and the company sponsors a website related to the show where surfers can download ring tones of songs that appear on the show.
Boon for show, too
But it's not just Verizon Wireless that gets a marketing opportunity out of the deal. "Gossip Girl" is hoping its tie-in with the cellphone company will bring in viewers to its show. Verizon Wireless efforts on behalf of the show include national print ads and even guerrilla-marketing "street teams." The level of marketing support provided to the show was a critical factor in deciding whose products to use, said Alison Tarrant, CW's senior VP-integrated sales and marketing.
With technology allowing more and more consumers to watch TV shows on the web or mobile devices, finding new ways to get the word out about new programs is important. "The integrated partnerships overall are vital to our business at this point, for all the obvious reasons," said Sonia Borris, VP-marketing and promotions, Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Marketing. "There's a desire to provide the extensions that will help market the show, and ultimately those are distribution outlets that both networks and studios can't necessarily afford. We need to utilize our partners' media assets in order to generate buzz and additional marketing support."
Rather than filling a set with name-brand goods, "why not use that opportunity as a way to connect to the appropriate brand that's going to give you marketing support and is going to reflect on the show?" asked John Zamoiski, co-CEO of NMA Entertainment & Marketing, a Los Angeles firm that creates such alliances. More networks and studios are "looking for long-term impact, instead of what might be a short-term paycheck."
The show's backers had a telecom marketer in mind early in the program's development. An initial script even had T-Mobile's "Sidekick" in its pages, said Stephanie Savage, the show's executive producer and co-creator. Showing mobile devices is "very easy to do, because it's all stuff we wanted [characters] to do anyway," she said. "We would rather not have our shows be full of fake things."
Nor would telecom marketers -- so long as the show lures the right consumers. The wireless market is a mature one, and wireless companies are focused more on retaining their customers and getting them to buy additional services, said Linda Barrabee, an analyst at Boston technology consultant Yankee Group. Teens adopt the services quickly and help influence parents' buying decisions, she said. As a result, the carriers "like to establish these exclusive relationships around content that they perceive to be hot and appeals to a segment that is important to them."