NatGeo's 'Rednecks' Are Pitching Pizza

The ‘Rocket’ science behind Papa John’s series sponsorship
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Papa Johns Pizza is a big football sponsor, but it’s also putting some rednecks from National Geographic Channel on its roster.

Not just any rednecks. NatGeo’s Rocket City Rednecks are led by Travis Taylor, who’s really a rocket scientist from Huntsville, Ala., working on his second PhD, with a topsecret military clearance for space and military projects. These rednecks launch rockets, turn moonshine into fuel and build other cool stuff. They also enjoy shooting things, drinking beer and, evidently, eating some pizza.

Papa John’s, a new advertiser on NatGeo, is the lead sponsor of Rocket City Rednecks, which premiered last Wednesday. This quarter, Papa John’s is trying to build up its loyalty program and is offering a million free pizzas to consumers who sign up for Papa Rewards.

A cornerstone of the sponsorship is a tune-in vignette produced by NatGeo that features Taylor and his crew eating pizza while tailgating outside a football stadium. “When we heard about an incredible new pizza deal, we decided to help get the word out,” says Taylor in the spot. One of his buddies punches a button, launching a rocket that skywrites the sponsor’s logo and its message: “Earn Free Pizza Fast. Go to PapaJohns.com.” (According to NatGeo, the rocket is real, the skywriting is a graphic.)

Early in the spot, a super notes that Rocket City Rednecks airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.

As part of the sponsorship, NatGeo is also putting together a series of factoids about the fresh ingredients in Papa John’s pizza; some will appear as billboards, others as snipes occupying the lower third of the screen.

“This is a new piece of business for us,” says Rich Goldfarb, senior VP for media sales at NatGeo. “It’s in a category, not just with pizzas but with quick-serve restaurants, that we grew tremendously in this past broadcast upfront. These are some of the guys that really partner with us in a big, exciting way. We just think it’s fun and we think it’s going to help their business.”

Goldfarb said Papa John’s was making a major commitment, but declined to say how much it was spending with NatGeo. “There are a number of zeros on it,” he adds.

NatGeo is able to do more product integrations as it airs more personality-driven shows, as opposed to its more traditional documentary programs. Rocket City Rednecks, for example, is paired on Wednesday nights with Mad Scientists, another personality-driven series.

“We’re populating the schedule more and more with character-driven series,” Goldfarb says. “So here’s a case where we can take the stars who are great characters in the series and blend them seamlessly with our advertising partners.”

Goldfarb says that many of NatGeo’s new shows were embraced by the advertiser community. Sponsors flocked to Rocket City Rednecks when it was just a talking point in the network’s pre-upfront presentations. In addition to Papa John’s, a major automaker made a deal to integrate one of its pickup trucks into to the show.

Like most cable networks, NatGeo had a strong upfront, showing double-digit growth in its sales volume. “Not only did we grow our endemic categories, like automotive and financials, but we drove business across a number of other ad categories,” Goldfarb says. “In this case, [quick service restaurants] was really strong for us, especially from a growth point of view.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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