Madison & Vine: Discovery, Taco Bell sign ad pact

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In a partnership that marks the growing interest in brand-integration deals on both sides, Discovery Networks has inked an ad deal with Taco Bell across three of its cable TV platforms-Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet.

Terms of the pact were not disclosed, but according to Bill McGowan, exec VP-ad sales at Discovery Communications, parent of Discovery Networks, reeling in the Yum Brands chain as a first-time advertiser is a good sign that the networks' efforts to appeal to a younger audience is paying off. Taco Bell said that until now, Discovery hasn't been seen as an appropriate environment to reach its core 18 to 34 target audience.

"Discovery's National Geographic sensibility doesn't seem compatible with our brand, but they've developed unique shows like `Monster Garage,' which is Taco Bell-ish," said Debbie Myers, VP-media services, entertainment and licensing at the fast feeder.

"Monster Garage"-a show beginning Sept. 30 and considered to be the cornerstone of the deal-is hosted by Jesse James, who, along with his crew, embarks upon a reconstruction project like converting a lightweight vehicle into a hot-air balloon. Product placement will be woven into the program as Jesse and his crew will wolf down Taco Bell items while they work. Discovery has had previous success with product placement with advertisers like Procter & Gamble Co.

"One of the great aspects of `Monster Garage' is that it broadens the demographic reach of Discovery," said Mr. McGowan. "It has a certain hip cachet." This type of programming fits into the scheme of Billy Campbell, who joined Discovery Networks in June as president. Previously, he'd held positions at Miramax and Viacom's CBS.

Ms. Myers and Mr. McGowan both say it is critical to integrate brands in in a manner that does not jeopardize the integrity of either the show or the brand. "It has to be organic," said Ms. Myers. "[The talent] can't all of a sudden be saying `Oh, I forgot to have my Taco Bell today."'

Cluttered marketplace

Taco Bell has been exploring product placement, and was previously involved in "Murder in Small Town X" from News Corp.'s Fox. "Monster Garage" heralds a further exploration into alternate branding strategies as Taco Bell, like other marketers, confronts the cluttered media marketplace and commercial-avoidance digital video recording devices like TiVo and Replay.

The challenging environment notwithstanding, Ms. Myers said her company will keep a cautious approach. "[Consumers] don't come to our restaurants because we're moviemakers. I don't see us hiring Ridley Scott to shoot a multimillion dollar movie to run on the Internet," a reference to the BMW Films Web series.

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