On Sale at Wisteria Lane

TV characters hawk big brands online as product integration goes digital
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This season, ABC is inviting fans of Desperate Housewives to step into the homes of their favorite characters--and shop. The network's online store now offers virtual tours of the Housewives houses that guide visitors through room-by-room showcases of products used on the sets--from the Farberware knives in Lynette's kitchen to the Benjamin Moore "Rose Bisque" paint that coats Eddie's house.

The tours are among the new product-integration opportunities that TV networks and advertisers are exploring on the Web. Advertisers have struck integration deals with CBS and NBC as well, in hopes of reaching engaged viewers online.

The deals also allow smaller advertisers to associate their brands with a hit show like Desperate Housewives without committing the tens of millions of dollars a national ad campaign would cost.

ABC's tours were created by a five-year-old San Francisco-based company called Delivery Agent, which builds, hosts and manages online sales for 105 entertainment properties, including TV shows, movies and sports teams.

The company works with prop masters and costumers and uses proprietary technology to log products that appear on-set. It then sells online product- integration and sales packages ranging in price from $10,000 to “six figures” (the company declined to be more specific) to the purveyors of those products.

“Entertainment properties create demand for consumer product, and there's a broken link between viewers and networks,” says Delivery Agent CEO Mike Fitzsimmons. “We're really focusing on a category that typically would not advertise on-air and offering a scalable ad solution.”

CBS' and NBC's online deals are structured more like traditional product/programming integration. CBS has incorporated products into several original video series on its broadband site, Innertube.

InTurn, a reality hunt for an As the World Turns cast member, flew contestants to New York on Southwest Airlines; Animate This, animated shorts narrated by stars, had Star Trek's George Takei drive a Mazda to get a passport, and dating show Hook Me Up will feature Sony Ericsson and Dentyne.

Treasure Hunters, NBC's summer globetrotting reality competition, promoted such brands as Genworth Financial both on-air and in its online game. For the on-air episodes, the producers digitally inserted the Genworth logo on street signs, billboards and blimps.

Viewers who checked out the show's Websites found a Genworth-sponsored game with instructions telling them the company could help “navigate the challenges of life and this game.”

“If you can use content to create a marketing platform—in such a way that viewers who want to know more find out more—then you win because those are the exact customers the advertisers want to reach,” says Jak Severson, managing partner for Madison Road Entertainment, the branded-entertainment firm that created Treasure Hunters' product integrations.

Compared with the $2 million that an advertiser might pay to have a brand featured in a high-profile reality series like NBC's The Apprentice, online-integration deals are a bargain. And given the various forms such integration can take, costs are being worked out on a project-by-project basis.

“The deals being cut are quite subjective and tied to the cost of making content,” Severson says, “but over time, we're going to see a CPM formula emerge for this type of application.”

Through Delivery Agent, companies can use a show's Website to sell their products, link to a third-party seller or buy a bigger sponsorship, including banner advertising and more-prominent product placement.

The Desperate tours are accompanied by banner ads from Benjamin Moore, Bosch and Thermador, none of which advertise during the TV show.

Delivery Agent plans to roll out tours for roughly a dozen more shows this season and already offers behind-the-scenes video from such shows as NBC's Las Vegas and Bravo's Project Runway.

In the fourth quarter, the company hopes to launch an interactive product for digital cable and satellite TV that will let viewers buy products with their remotes.

Says Fitzsimmons, “Today, it's a two-step process: You watch a show on TV and go online to complete a transaction. We're seeing healthy momentum in getting people closer to that transaction.”

TV characters hawk big brands online as product integration goes digital

This season, ABC is inviting fans of Desperate Housewives to step into the homes of their favorite characters—and shop. The network's online store now offers virtual tours of the Housewives houses that guide visitors through room-by-room showcases of products used on the sets—from the Farberware knives in Lynette's kitchen to the Benjamin Moore “Rose Bisque” paint that coats Edie's house.

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