NEW YORK — In the early days of television not only was it common for a series to be sponsored by an individual product, such an association was often featured in the title.
“Schlitz Playhouse of Stars,” “Texaco Star Theatre,” “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show” (“See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet”) and “The Colgate Comedy Hour” are a few examples of how primetime of the late 1940s and 1950s was a breeding ground of direct show sponsorships and product placements.
Even “I Love Lucy,” initially sponsored by Philip Morris, seemed to always feature Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz puffing away.
Although direct sponsorships declined as the years progressed, today’s depressed economic picture means more options for cost sharing are being weighed.
“In this kind of advertising marketplace, the programming financial formula as we once knew it no longer adds up,” says Dick Robertson, president, Warner Bros. domestic distribution. “Any additional maneuver that can defray programming costs — multipurposing, advertiser involvement, product placement, direct sponsorships — has to be considered.”
“Studios, networks and advertisers are all now working together to cross-promote using each other’s marketing budgets,” notes Russ Krasnoff, president of programming at Columbia TriStar. “The results have been positive.”
Product placement has been gaining momentum in the advertising community and a rising number of shows are utilizing this association.
Frito-Lay, Mountain Dew and Visa have been prominently featured in CBS’ hugely popular reality skein “Survivor,” AT&T is always on the scene when a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” contestant needs to use a phone-a-friend lifeline and Carnival Cruise Lines is a visible part of syndicated Col Tri-Star gameshow “ShipMates.”
Titles of programs are even coming into play.
Ford Motor Co. is sponsoring the WB reality hour “No Boundaries,” which, not coincidentally, is named after Ford’s marketing campaign. “If the product fits into the show and enhances the scene then it’s worth doing it,” says Jed Petrick, president and chief operating officer of the WB. “If it doesn’t then you are doing a disservice to the show and the advertiser.”
“I like to think of this as product integration,” says Rob Kenneally, an agent at CAA. “A sponsorship like Carnival Cruises on ‘ShipMates’ is effective because it’s relevant to the story and a seamless integration.”
“In an ad market this soft, product placement and direct sponsorships give advertisers a leg up on the competition,” adds Jeff Dellin, senior VP of research and program strategy at Studios USA.
Advertisers also have their say, so to speak, thanks to the Family Friendly Programming Forum, which includes 48 national advertisers in a mission to find relevant, entertaining and interesting broad family programming.
“The lines of communication between Hollywood and other industries has always been blurred and the Family Friendly Programming Forum is opening doors,” says another Beverly Hills-based talent agent.
“As long as the roles remain clearly defined — creators create the product, advertisers use the product to get their messages out and the networks or stations look to attract the most number of viewers — sharing costs is a win-win situation.”