Your brand, the star

As planning for the coming TV season is firmed up and the nets' marketing teams rev up, the first good news is that viewership is 4% higher than at the same time last year.

As planning for the coming TV season is firmed up and the nets’ marketing teams rev up, the first good news is that viewership is 4% higher than at the same time last year.

And even with the increased eyeballs, the better news for marketers is that broadcasters are more determined than ever – and more technologically enabled – to help them cut through commercial clutter and circumvent ad skipping by casting brands in onscreen starring roles.

This fall, Global plans to continue running ‘showmericals’: 60-second, self-contained ‘Sex and the City’-type episodes for Unilever’s new hair care product, Sunsilk, one of the CPG giant’s biggest launches in years. In June, the net debuted the first two of what will be nine episodes during the ET Canada timeslot, featuring four young actresses who converge in bathrooms at clubs, weddings and birthday parties to discuss life, and of course, hair woes.

Gaye McDonald, VP, marketing ventures/brand partnership for CanWest MediaWorks, says Unilever wanted a unique execution that would stand out and drive home the brand’s messaging of the product for its North American launch in Canada, which has been two years in the making. And she adds, the net even managed to include references to some of Global’s fall programming, like Prison Break, into the dialogue.

Similarly, a whole raft of P&G beauty products were built into spring episodes of Gilmore Girls and showed mother-daughter viewers getting makeovers by beauty professionals using the CPG firm’s products. Winners of a contest, not only received makeovers, but a trip to visit the set of the show. These four-and-a-half-minute ‘Look Fab’ segments featured Pantene, Cover Girl, Olay, Nice ‘n Easy and Crest Whitestrips and were interspersed through the entire hour of Gilmore Girls.

P&G spokesperson Joyce Law says the company was ‘pleased with how [these showmercials] went and we’re looking to do more of this kind of thing in the future [because] it helped bring to life how our products are in use, as it becomes part of the program people are watching.’

CanWest is also continuing to delve into the brand integration realm, following its success with Falcon Beach. General Motors, Pepsi-Cola and American Eagle are planning returning cameos for their brands in the new season of the net’s soapy teen drama, after successful plot infiltration in the first season.

Over at CTV, Kraft Canada is ‘doing more and more content integration’ and plans to continue doing so ‘to embed our brand messaging,’ says VP marketing Dan d’Alessandro. They’ve signed on for the current season of Canadian Idol to capitalize on the success of a partnership which began last year and showed host Ben Mulroney and contestants eating Kraft Dinner, Kraft peanut butter, Crispers and Bits & Bites. In Quebec, Kraft developed and co-produces a long-running series called qu’est-ce qui mijote (What’s Cooking), in which various food products are integrated. Coffee and other appropriate food brands are also quaffed and munched on Citytv’s Breakfast Television.

Kraft was also the name sponsor of CBC’s just-wrapped Kraft Hockeyville, which may get picked up for a second season. ‘Our association with the show was successful,’ says d’Alessandro. ‘We had to reorder in-store materials because we ran out of what we thought was a very high estimate. So far, the business results we can attribute back to the program are very positive.’

And CTV’s homegrown hit Corner Gas scored its highest viewership ever for a Christmas-oriented episode during which the Sears Wish catalogue arrived and the characters chose gifts they wanted.

On the product placement front, beginning with summer reruns of House, Las Vegas and The Office, Global is getting into virtual placement after receiving raves for plunking the Casino Rama brand atop New York taxis used in The Apprentice to drive off contestants who had been fired.

And while Canadian nets have certainly upped the ante, if it’s successful, expect to see offshoots here soon of reality king Mark Burnett’s seemingly TiVo-proof strategy following the launch of his latest venture, Gold Rush, which hits screens this fall. The stroke of genius? He’s embedded clues to win $2 million in gold hidden around the U.S. in commercials, on AOL.com and in CBS programming.