Marketers dive into 'Apprentice 3'

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Heedless of Trump casinos' bankruptcy filing, a doubling of fees and ratings that have failed to match that of season one, advertisers are flocking to "The Apprentice 3."

Sony's PlayStation, Visa International and Verizon Wireless signed on for "tasks" within the third season that wrapped filming last week, according to executives close to the situation. Marquis Jets, which appeared in season one, may also come back for another turn. Mark Burnett Productions did not return calls for comment.

According to executives familiar with the negotiations, talks on integration fees began at $2.5 million, up from a $1 million starting point for series two. Prices are dependent on a number of factors, including how much money is being committed to NBC, which controls the commercial airtime, and how involved marketers are in other projects by the reality uber-producer behind CBS's "Survivor" and NBC's boxing reality series "The Contender." Mr. Burnett is also developing a new reality show featuring Martha Stewart.

But not everyone is paying his prices. McDonald's senior VP-marketing in charge of media, Peter Sterling, said the fast-feeder has ended conversations about an integration deal with "The Apprentice 3."

"While we thought that the integration was OK, we thought the price tag for season three was in excess of what we were willing to pay considering the ratings," said Mr. Sterling. He pointed out that some reality shows have had diminishing returns, given poor ratings, but said the two parties are continuing to discuss Mr. Burnett's other projects.

Burger King was also said to have been in talks with Burnett Productions. Executives at the Miami fast-feeder declined to comment.

Executives who have dealt with Mr. Burnett said the producer's company pocketed in excess of $13.5 million from marketers involved in the 13-episode run of "The Apprentice 2."

"A lot of advertisers are asking about these kind of deals," said Guy McCarter, director-entertainment and marketing, Omnicom Group's OMD. "They're looking for a way to extend brand messaging into content."

still top 10

Interest remains high despite the fact the ratings for the sophomore season have declined when compared to its first outing. Total viewers for this season's episodes range between 14.5 million and 16.2 million to date, while the first season drew audiences between 17 million and 22 million viewers. Season one, however, began in January, whereas season two began in the more competitive month of September.

Still, marketers point out, it's a top 10 show. For the week of Nov. 15, "Apprentice 2" was the No. 5 show among the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic, with 10 million viewers in that category.

Episode 10, which aired on Thanksgiving night, was filmed at Pepsi-Cola Co. headquarters in Purchase, N.Y. Part of the task for contestants involved designing a new Pepsi Edge bottle and a marketing campaign. The prize for winning the task involved luxury carmaker Lamborghini. The season opened with an episode involving both toy manufacturer Hasbro and retailer Toys `R' Us. Other marketers this season have included Procter & Gamble Co., which promoted its Crest White Strips product, QVC and Levi-Strauss Co.

The sheer number of marketing participants has led more than one industry executive to wonder whether Mr. Burnett's show is now too crammed full of brands for any one to stand out. "The same people who complain about clutter want to see their names up in lights," said one senior media agency executive. Another said: "There is a question now to see if they start restricting the number of brand-related tasks. From my perspective I'd rather my plans stand out more."

Whatever the price, marketers say they love the platform that "The Apprentice" offers. It is unique in that products are both talked about and are part of the action. "Our results [from the `Apprentice 2' partnership] greatly exceeded our expectations in terms of response from consumers and retailers," said Bryan McCleary, director-external relations for Crest.

Crest got 3 million visits to its Web site for a promotional tie-in to the show offering contest entrants a trip to the final "Apprentice 2" show and a stay at a Trump hotel. Out of 20 million total page views generated by the "Apprentice" tie-in, stoked by a 15-second ad featuring Mr. McCleary and Diane Dietz, general manager-P&G oral care, P&G received 85,000 entries and 35,000 marketing suggestions. P&G had special retail displays linked to "Apprentice 2" and Crest Vanilla Mint, which was launched on the Sept. 23 show.

contributing: alice z. cuneo, jack neff and kate macarthur

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