Pairing Food with Franchise

Being a devotee of food-related programming, I tuned in last Sunday for a fresh season of one of the Food Network’s newer shows, “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.” The program is just as simple as it sounds: home cooks face off against one another in an assigned category (chicken, comfort foods, and so on), and the winning recipe is crowned Top Dish.

The Food Network has always known how to draw consumers in, from the way it markets its chefs (Mario Batali cookware, anyone? It’s available in the Food Network Store,) to its technology (the site has featured Web-only programs like “Eat This with Dave Lieberman”). But its new show affords one of its advertisers a unique opportunity to do the same.

The T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant chain has been a friend of the food network for some time now. You’ll recognize Food Network personality Guy Fieri from the chain’s television ads; he’s the vociferous one with the bleached-blonde hair who always seems to be yelling. He also happens to be the host of “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.”

When the show debuted last February, the chain announced it would be featuring the winning recipes on its menu for restaurant-going viewers to judge for themselves. The Friday’s “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” menu is back. And this time, it comes with a nice selection of online media.

To promote its connection to the show, Friday’s has established a presence on the Food Network site that begins with a prominent home page banner revealing Fieri’s face alongside copy that promotes both the restaurant and the program. When consumers click to close the ad, they’re left with some residual branding: a bar the width of the page that’s striped red and white to mirror the familiar Friday’s logo. The site is also peppered with co-branded banners featuring the Top Dish of the week. It’s enough to make anyone hungry.

The creative itself is masterful in its use of copy and messaging. With links that read “Get Recipe” and “Get the lowdown on the showdown,” it appears as though users will be directed to the show’s dedicated section on the Food Network site. Instead, clicks lead to the Friday’s site, where a custom page offers a printable recipe PDF.

Additionally, there’s a fair balance between references to the Friday’s special menu and program details (“Tune in Sunday. Taste it Monday. Sunday Nights 9p/8c”). This co-branded presentation transforms the ads from third-party placement to advertorial, wherein ad content and site content are seamlessly intertwined. Given the suitability of the relationship (both chain and show cater to the everyday American who appreciates a tasty meal), this type of site integration can go a long way in securing desirable campaign results.

Where Friday’s could have done better is in its selection of page placements on foodnetwork.com. The chain has the “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” section covered with a sponsorship. That’s a no-brainer. Given that its spokesperson-slash-Food Network chef also hosts two other unrelated shows, however, placing additional banners in those sections of the site would have been a stealthy move.

Like many TV chefs, Fieri has a big personality. Viewers will either love him or hate him, without much in between. And if they love him, they’ll love him on his other shows as well. What a perfect chance for Friday’s to expand its reach and up the odds of reaching potential customers by covering more Fieri-related pages.

Contextually, there’s no connection between, say, “Guy’s Big Bite” and the custom menu at Friday’s. But Guy represents a common ground that’s just as likely to be traversed by a new or already loyal customer as the site section that overtly promotes “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.”

In many ways, the link between T.G.I Friday’s and Food Network is a recipe for success even before online media enters the picture. Online ads can only enhance it, and these well-executed (if not impeccably placed) banners do. That’s the thing about good cooking: it’s all about a balance of complementary ingredients.

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