Conventional wisdom among media buyers says Yahoo is the most complete interactive media company. It offers marketers email, IM, music, sports, news, business and various other vertical channels.
Yet the company has found this dispersed network of services limits its appeal to CPG and retail advertisers, who are historically reticent to take big branding campaigns online. Buying men 18 to 34 is just easier with a :30 spot.
“Businesses that have been slowest to move dollars online are the CPG companies,” said Vince Messina, who heads development for Yahoo’s entertainment category. “They stick to their branding messages. There’s no specific area of Yahoo that deals with coffee, no specific area that deals with cheese. Yet the biggest amount of marketing dollars line up in these businesses”
How do you court these TV addicted advertisers? With its content and ad integration deal with Mark Burnett’s “The Apprentice,” Yahoo saw a chance to give them their TV, but also show them the power of a side order of interactive. The resulting data and case studies will also come in handy for courting other reluctant CPGs, Messina figures.
The TV show is a product placement marketer’s fantasy — essentially one long string of ad placements. Featured brands include Dove, Burger King, Nescafé and Levi’s. More important for Yahoo’s CPG marketing strategy, the integration has resulted in some very creative online/offline ad packages. Most deals were made on a straight impression basis, in the form of banners and pre-roll video ads. But the portal also facilitated additional product marketing efforts it’s betting will help win future business.
Ciao Bella Gelato company agreed to produce ice cream flavors created by show contestants. The resulting Red Velvet and Vanilla Donut Dream were shipped to actual stores, and a post-show call-out urged people to search for “Apprentice ice cream” on Yahoo Search.
Jim Moloshok, the portal’s SVP of entertainment, explained how the partnership began: “We went to Ciao Bella and said we want to do an experiment.”
Yahoo and the show’s producers arranged for the special ice cream flavors — each bundled in a multi-pack with regular flavors — to be distributed to 750-plus stores nationwide, in addition to Ciao Bella’s usual 25 or so outlets.
Next day, the term mentioned in the call-out rocketed to the third most-searched on Yahoo The portal’s local site told people where they could find the flavors, and maps gave directions to stores. Result: the ice cream sold out in 24 hours, and with it went Ciao Bella’s non-Apprentice flavors.
A similar structure was used for a “jeans” episode, in which Levi’s was featured and Donald Trump’s wife wore the product. A promo spot on NBC drove people online: “Want to see the Jeans featured on tonight’s show? Go to Yahoo Shopping and search ‘Apprentice Jeans.'”
The Yahoo front page also ran a mantle unit and tagline linking to the Shopping section. From there it directed people to a JCPenney site where they could buy the jeans or get the Levi’s catalog produced on the show. Week over week, traffic to JCPenney’s apparel site was up 80 percent.
“It’s not that we’re creating promotional URLs,” said Moloshok. “What we’re doing is taking a television impression and changing it over into an online engagement by… providing a deeper experience.”
Some product integrations are more successful than others. When both teams were told to create an ad for Unilever’s Dove brand two weeks ago, the results were predictably awful. Though both :30 spots were rejected by The Donald, viewers could still check them out on the official site.
Again, the terms “Dove” or “Dove Soap” leaped on Yahoo Search. But is there brand value in getting hordes of people to watch a terrible ad about your product?
Following the “Nescafé” episode, in which the teams produced buzz promotional events around the Taster’s Choice coffee brand, viewers were invited to come to Yahoo and get a recipe. They could click a button to get a free two-week sample. By Monday morning, the company had received a quarter million such requests through the online channel. Additionally, Nescafé produced Apprentice specific :30 spots that ran on-air and on the accompanying Yahoo site.
Yahoo has been unabashed in proclaiming the relationship a success.
“Take everything that has happened and ratchet it back by 50 percent. That’s about what we were hoping for,” said Messina. “When we go back and look at this project with Mark Burnett, we’ll see it as a definite turning point in the way the ad community perceives the Internet as a viable advertising medium.”
Yahoo and Mark Burnett Productions will repeat the formula with “The Contender,” a boxing reality series that premieres in two weeks. Integrated brands include Gatorade and Home Depot. The buzz around that show was marred recently by the post-production suicide of one contestant. It’s unclear what sensitivities that may involve for marketers.
The Contender deal is one to watch. But one wonders whether any vessel could be as primed for product integration as “The Apprentice.” Was it primarily a breakthrough for Yahoo’s ad sales, or for reality TV product placement in general? A little of both, said Messina.
“The easy answer would be to say, yeah, this is the prefect show for that kind of thing,” he said. Then he added, “The correct combination of elements hasn’t come together yet for a drama, a comedy, a news program. That doesn’t mean that six months from now, a sitcom or an hour-long drama or a theatrical motion picture won’t have the combination.”
Moloshok sees the deal with Mark Burnett as part of a process by which the portal is learning more about effective cross-media integration of ad campaigns.
“We’re not doing it perfectly,” he said. “We’re in the infancy. But I don’t think we need to wait for the living room box. We’re programming the way people are receiving content now.”
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