For several months, E! and TV Guide Channel have primped, preened and prepared for a big moment on their programming calendars: the start of red carpet season, at the Golden Globes on Jan. 13. But the networks aren't stopping at simple coverage of the grinners and winners. With a nod to all things celebrity, both networks have set up ambitious lifestyle-related marketing campaigns to tap into the public's seemingly limitless fascination with the culture of fame, centered on the stars who walk the carpet before the award shows.
There's only one problem: Because of the writer's strike, the stars may not come out. If it means crossing WGA picket lines, actors who are members of the guilds may not show up to either present or accept awards, much less bask on the berber. So while ratings for red-carpet coverage at last year's Golden Globes were up slightly over the year prior for both E! and TV Guide (a 2.1 and 0.7 household rating in metered markets, respectively), as were the numbers for the awards themselves, they could well take a nosedive this year.
Despite this possibility, the networks are, to borrow from Hollywood parlance, going on with the show, and all the more eagerly. They're touting the overall concept of living a red-carpet celebrity lifestyle through first-time partnerships with consumer products and Websites. Each network is both stepping up marketing through traditional media, and has also partnered with makers of consumer products—Barbies, nail polish and wine for E!, Jell-O for TV Guide—that will brand their logo and red-carpet messaging in stores and market the idea of all things fam and glam.
BUYING INTO THE FRANCHISE
“Red carpet as a franchise is really something people are enjoying and buying into as a general concept, not just a single event,” says Suzanne Kolb, Comcast Entertainment Group executive VP of marketing and communications. “We're tapping into different experiences and continuing to bring the sense of what people like about these shows into their lives.”
This month, the network will begin selling an E! Live From the Red Carpet by Badgley Mischka Barbie Doll in Toys “R” Us stores and other U.S. dealers, as well as on its Website and in the Barbie Collector catalog. It has also partnered with nail polish manufacturer Essie to create an E! Live From the Red Carpet limited-edition nail polish that will be offered in salons and online.
And it has paired with Little Black Dress Wines on a campaign to both promote and raise money for the Clothes Off Our Back charity. The winemaker will create in-store displays for retail outlets with messages placed on bottles from Jan. 1 to Feb. 25 promoting E! and E! Online as the resource for “all things red carpet.”
The wine company will also display a TV schedule of E! awards show coverage, viewing party tips and information on a sweepstakes, and help pay for tune-in ads in Us Weekly during awards season. E! will support the venture with, among other things, mentions of the wine during red carpet coverage and online. As part of the partnership, both will donate to Clothes Off Our Back.
For its part, TV Guide Channel increased its partnership with Jell-O as part of a 2008 red-carpet marketing budget that is up more than 50% over 2007, according to the network's president, Ryan O'Hara. Kraft, promoting its sugar-free strawberry Jell-O and dark-chocolate pudding desserts, will sponsor fashion cameras at all five awards shows, as opposed to one last year, and promote a sweepstakes on millions of packages and on TV. Vignettes starring red-carpet co-host Lisa Rinna will focus on getting red-carpet ready through leading a health-conscious lifestyle.
“To be tied in with a blue-chip sponsor is really important to us,” says O'Hara. “Their products tie in well to the glamour and celebrity of red carpet, being in good shape, eating well.”
Both networks are also stepping up their traditional marketing efforts. E! is focusing its online efforts on its own site and plans interstitials from various sponsors. TV Guide bought spots for the first time ever on Dish, in addition to DirecTV and national cable, and partnered for the first time with Google, Yahoo and Vibrant Media on contextual marketing. And it will use TV Guide magazine and its broadband site and others' to promote its coverage.
“We've never spent as much and gone as deep,” O'Hara says of TV Guide's red carpet effort. He adds that the network would stick with it, regardless of the strike's impact on this year's shows. “These events are really what fans care about.”