Degree is breaking the second year of its "24"-inspired webisode series "The Rookie" today in conjunction with the News Corp. network. The launch comes more than nine months before the series is set to resume in January, helping to fill a void left by what will be an 18-month hiatus, said Sam Chadha, marketing director for North American deodorants at Unilever.
The branded-entertainment series "The Rookie: Day 3 Extraction" continues the story of Counter Terrorism Unit rookie Jason Blaine and adds some new talent to the lineup. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, who's been a Degree pitchman for two years and appeared in brand ads since last fall, will play "Agent Ocho" in the series of six weekly three-minute shows.
Mr. Johnson styled himself "ocho cinco" in 2006 as a Spanish-language reference to his uniform number, 85. While he has been a subject of controversy in Cincinnati in recent months over reports he wants to be traded, his commitment to the Degree team has only deepened.
Mr. Johnson "embodies a lot of what the brand stands for in terms of men who take risks," Mr. Chadha said. "This is a fun way of bringing [the two campaigns] together. We thought it would be a great way to broaden the appeal by bringing fans of Chad to '24' and vice versa."
The "Rookie" program, created and produced by WPP Group's MindShare Entertainment, New York, and Science & Fiction, adds new distribution outlets in year two as well. Besides being available on DegreeRookie.com, it will also be available on Comcast on Demand starting March 17 and DirecTV starting April 7. TV ads from MindShare to run on the Comcast and DirecTV systems will promote the series.
Online, cable and satellite channels will provide access to high-definition versions in Dolby 5.1 surround sound and behind-the-scenes footage. Degree for Men also will host "mini sites" for "The Rookie" at several men's websites and syndicate content to video sites. Men who opt in will also receive mobile text and digital reminders when each new episode is released.
The video presentations also will promote a sweepstakes with prizes that include a Hummer H3.
Rodney Charters, who has directed past episodes of "24" and is currently the show's director of photography, directed Degree's "Rookie" series, and members of the TV show's production and stunt-coordination teams also were part of the Degree production.
And like the upcoming seventh season of the TV show, "The Rookie" also will take place largely outside CTU headquarters, shot on location in Mexico, where the title character works to rescue his boss after he was kidnapped by a drug cartel, Mr. Chadha said.
Helped boost sales
"It's been a successful partnership," Mr. Chadha said, noting that the first year of Unilever's brand integration generated "millions of views" and was part of a marketing plan that produced a 30% increase in sales of Degree for Men.
"Over-engineered technology that's future ready for your protection" is part of Degree's brand equity, Mr. Chadha said, noting that the message fits well with "24." This year's program aligns specifically with a new product launch, Degree for Men Absolute Protection.
"We're bringing men in our target audience, 25-34, content that they wouldn't be able to get ordinarily, due to the writers' strike," Mr. Chadha said. "So this is a unique opportunity for us to work with [Fox] to keep their content in mind."