Why Discovery Communications Pushed ‘King of Thrones’ Into The Toilet

Potty humor proves instrumental in luring audiences, but even conservative advertisers like Procter & Gamble think the toilet-renovation program is a suitable place to advertise Charmin

As the maker of  wholesome, all-American products like Tide, Crest and Pampers, Procter & Gamble has never been one for sponsoring bawdy talk. But the company isn’t above a little potty humor.

When Discovery Communications-owned cable outlet Destination America launches bathroom-renovation program “King of Thrones” Tuesday evening, it will do so with P&G’s Charmin toilet paper front and center, according to Dan Hahn, vice president of ad sales for the network. The show, which Discovery has happily promoted with the phrase, “We’re #1 When It Comes to #2,” focuses on a duo who remodel and even rebuild home commodes, sometimes with eyebrow-raising technology or surprising design challenges.

In the program, Jeff Hoxie and Dave Koob show off their flair for building high-end bathrooms replete with heated toilets, body dryers, giant flat-screen TV sets, and, in at least one case, shower jets for a family pooch. Destination America will show six one-hour programs in the series, and then assess whether a second cycle is feasible. Early episodes will focus on a couple who have a door-less bathroom and are trying to prevent the resulting peep show from taking the romance out of their relationship, and an attempt to render a bathroom built for a retired grandfather and two six-year-old twins less offensive to the olfactory nerve.

The series is centered more on the toilet as a fixture than on what goes into the porcelain receptacle, but that hasn’t prevented executives at the network from letting their minds fall right into the, ah, crapper. To get the word out about the show, Destination America executives posted ads in New York bar bathrooms and sent members of the press a “toilet mug” filled with a bag of brown M&Ms. Also available: a roll of toilet paper with the show’s logo printed on it.

Rather than make people think about washing their hands – which those promotions might do -, Destination America is really hoping to expand the 15-month old network’s programming more deeply into the “how-to” category, said Marc Etkind, the outlet’s general manager. Destination America replaced Discovery’s environmentally-themed Planet Green network in May of last year. “We’ve been thinking about home and property,” he said, particularly after noticing reaction to fancy outhouses spotted on another of the network’s programs, “Buying Alaska.”

Advertisers aren’t turning up their noses at “King of Thrones,” said Hahn. All the advertising inventory on the program has sold out to national advertisers, he said, meaning there is no room for direct-response advertising, a staple for cable networks that often don’t have TV’s biggest audiences.

During sales pitches, executives likened “Thrones” to “Tanked,” a series on sister network Animal Planet in which a clever duo builds high-end fish habitats. The Destination America team talked to ad buyers  about the bathroom as a “sanctuary,” said Hahn, or “a solution for family needs. When people heard that and realized” the show wasn’t so much about the digestive and excretory processes, “everyone was much more comfortable.”

In the past, Procter & Gamble has eschewed programming that could be deemed offensive. The consumer-products giant avoided Howard Stern’s radio show when it was broadcast on commercial airwaves, for instance, and its 2007 defection from advertising in MSNBC’s now-defunct airing of Don Imus’s CBS radio program after the host made racist remarks about members of the Rutgers University womens’ basketball team served to hasten that program’s demise.

When it comes to “Thrones,” P&G sees something valuable. The program “doesn’t just have a playful show title, it’s also right in line with our mission to provide a better bathroom experience anytime, anywhere,” said Laura Dressman, a communications manager for Procter’s family-care products. Expect to see Charmin toilet paper appear during “multiple episodes,” said Hahn, whether it is in the actual bathrooms spotted on the show or in the contractors’ supply area. Ads for Charmin will also roll off in the lower part of the TV screen while “Thrones” is on or in on-screen “billboards” in the space between the show and its commercial breaks.

Selling ads for the show came with some challenges, said Hahn. Because of the timing of the pick up of “Thrones”, there was no opportunity for advertisers to buy it months ahead as part of the annual upfront, when TV network sell the bulk of their ad inventory. So Destination America had to sell it to buyers of “scatter” ad inventory, which is sold much closer to when a program airs. Viewers will see ads from automakers, food manufacturers, electronics marketers and restaurant chains when “Thrones” airs, he said. Some small advertisers who don’t regularly buy TV commercials have provided equipment and supplies – a high-end commode, for instance – in exchange for a mention in the credits at the end of an episode.

Preparations are underway should “Thrones” reign.  “A lot of folks in the retail space, home improvement departments stores are very interested in it. A lot of other bathroom products are interested in it,” Hahn said. All that remains to be seen is whether “King of Thrones” proves successful with viewers or gets flushed away if it stinks up the joint.

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