‘True Blood’ fans bare buying fangs

Show tie-ins offer high-end products to adoring viewers

HBO hit “True Blood” may have fangbangers, but fangbuyers have turned “Blood”-branded merchandise into a hit as well.

In a down DVD market, “True Blood: The Complete Third Season” debuted at No. 1 on both the the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales chart and Nielsen’s dedicated Blu-ray disc sales chart for the week ending June 5. The force of the release was strong enough to pull the season two set back into the position of No. 9 on the chart and the season one set even re-entered the chart at 14. According to Rentrak, the season three set was also the 10th most popular rental title for that same week.

Season three has also been among the top five bestselling TV seasons on iTunes since its release May 31.

But fans’ love of all things vampire doesn’t stop, by any means, with DVDs. At its website, HBO sells a variety of T-shirts and trinkets, branded with the show’s logo. And there’s also the Tru Blood Beverage, based on the drink served in episodes of the show. It’s made from (you guessed it) blood oranges. Priced at $16 for a four-pack, more than 1 million of the bottles have been sold.

“We have fans that are really dedicated to this show,” says Courteney Monroe, executive VP of consumer marketing and digital platforms for HBO. “The key is really to choose items that fit the brand … because the fans will sense right away if something isn’t a good match.”

HBO is also placing the “True Blood” brand beyond its website.

A long list of items will be in play this summer, as the new season of “True Blood” kicked off June 26. Six different versions of “True Blood” V-Moda headphones will hit stores, priced from $39.99 to $199.99. Both Sephora and Ultima stores will carry upmarket cosmetics line Tarte’s new “True Blood”-branded cheek stain, lip liner and an eye shadow palate that comes in a specially designed box, with prices ranging from $24 to $52. And high-end handbag purveyor Hammitt will feature a new line of “True Blood” bags named after five of the show’s characters. Prices for the bags, available only at select retailers, will land between $395 and $675.

It’s no accident that “True Blood” merchandise has been placed with upscale, non-mainstream brands that don’t show up in the local Wal-Mart. Michael Schrager, president of the Entertainment Marketing Co., thinks that strategy makes perfect sense.

“This is a show that’s got a potentially high-disposable income audience watching, and it’s a show that pushes some boundaries, too,” Schrager says. “Some people really like being associated with that kind of program, and they’ll spend the money on big-ticket items like a purse, or maybe someone who knows them will buy it for them as a gift.”

Schrager thinks navigating a brand like “True Blood” can be tricky, because the show’s themes often involve sex and violence. However, he feels HBO has done a fine job staying true to the idea of the show, and believes even more lucrative tie-ins are possible. “I could see them matching other things, like a high-end car brand, with this show,” he says.

Mel Lowery and Liz Henderson, who run the fansite True-Blood.net, will be the first to attest to the fact that fans are passionate enough about the show to open up their wallets for a $695 purse, if it means enough to them. And, more likely than not, it will.

“It can be like a trophy for some people,” says Henderson. “If (fans) feel something will get them closer to (the “True Blood”) experience, they’re definitely going to be interested.”

According to Lowery and Henderson, True-Blood.net peaked at more than 450,000 visitors per month last year. The show also has devoted Twitter and Facebook followers.

“I think the genre has always had a huge following, and then here comes this sexy adult show,” says Lowery. “Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”

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