A COMING television series about Madison Avenue, set in the days when sponsors’ products were regularly woven into the plots of shows, is — yes — getting a sponsor whose product will be regularly woven into the plot of each episode.
Those advertising people, to paraphrase a line from the 1956 film “Written on the Wind,” so clever with ideas.
The series is “Mad Men,” a look at the industry and those who chose it as a career, circa 1960, as told through the employees and clients of a fictitious agency called Sterling Cooper. The hourlong dramatic series is to begin a 13-week run on July 19 on the AMC cable network.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey sold by the Brown-Forman Corporation will sponsor “Mad Men” under an agreement that involves the product both on and off the show. The deal was brought to Brown-Forman by the Universal McCann media agency in New York, part of the McCann Worldgroup division of the Interpublic Group of Companies.
“You always want to keep your eye on what’s the next new thing, to talk to consumers in a relevant way,” said Mark Bacon, national brand director for Jack Daniel’s at Brown-Forman in Louisville, Ky.
The funny part is that although the concept of turning products into integral elements of shows, known as branded entertainment, is new to contemporary advertisers, it was actually a mainstay of marketing from the ’30s through the ’60s.
Back then, the sponsors were featured in titles — like “The Bell Telephone Hour,” “Lux Radio Theater” and “Schlitz Playhouse of Stars” — and cast members of series like “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show” delivered commercials in character.
Branded entertainment faded four decades ago after it became too expensive for individual sponsors to finance production of a series. The networks also sought to regain control of their schedules after questions arose about undue sponsor influence, as when the results of quiz shows like “Twenty-One” were manipulated at the behest of advertisers.
Today, branded entertainment is making a comeback as marketers and networks seek to cope with the increasing ability of viewers to zip through or zap traditional commercials. If a pitch is incorporated into a program that people want to watch, the thinking goes, there is a far higher chance it will be noticed.
“What’s old is new again, in a lot of ways,” said Charlie Collier, executive vice president and general manager at AMC, part of the entertainment services division of Rainbow Media Holdings, owned by the Cablevision Systems Corporation. AMC is producing “Mad Men” in association with Lionsgate.
“The 30-second commercial is still here,” Mr. Collier said. “The question is, How do we put it in the best context?”
“This is a unique opportunity in a show about advertising to showcase advertisers and their commercials,” he added.
In episodes of “Mad Men,” characters will drink Jack Daniel’s in various scenes or ask for the brand by name. Sets will be decorated with vintage bottles, decanters and ads. Executives associated with advertising and public relations campaigns for Jack Daniel’s will be among the industry figures interviewed for short segments about “ad legends” past and present.
And Jack Daniel’s will be featured in promotions on AMC asking viewers to watch the series as well as in brief vignettes to introduce commercials that the network is calling “Mad-vertising.”
Off the show, Jack Daniel’s will be the sponsor of the “Mad Men” section of the AMC Web site (amctv.com) and will be credited on posters, print ads and other materials intended to encourage viewers to tune in.
The brand will also play a prominent role at an event tomorrow in Midtown Manhattan during which AMC will offer agency executives a preview of the first episode of the series. Napkins, stirrers and other paraphernalia will bear the Jack Daniel’s logo and of course attendees can order drinks made with a certain Tennessee whiskey.
As marketers revive branded entertainment, one issue they confront is the cynicism of current-day consumers about the blurring of the line between advertising and programming. For example, many viewers of the NBC series “Heroes” scoffed at scenes in which, as part of a deal with the Nissan Motor Company, characters not only drove a Nissan Versa but referred to it by name continually in the dialogue.
Integrating products into plot lines “drives audiences away if it makes them feel they’re being sold something in the middle of their entertainment,” said Matthew Weiner, the creator, writer and executive producer of “Mad Men,” who, during an interview last week, was filming the seventh episode of the series.
“I really don’t want advertising dictating the contents of the show,” he added, but there is something to be said for the verisimilitude of “having real brands” in scenes that helps evoke the era in which the series takes place.
For realism, some products included in episodes of “Mad Men” will not be sold by sponsors, Mr. Weiner said, citing the Rinso detergent brand once made by Lever Brothers.
“Jack Daniel’s is pretty easy” to include in a show set in the early ’60s, he added, particularly one about the mores and morals of the ad industry of the period. As an example, Mr. Weiner mentioned a scene he had recently filmed that took place “in a beatnik club,” where there’s a bottle on top of a piano as a woman recites a poem.
Mr. Bacon at Brown-Forman said he was not worried that including Jack Daniel’s in a series taking place almost 50 years ago would date the brand. Rather, he said, it would highlight its “authenticity,” a brand attribute that is becoming an important selling point with consumers in their 20s and 30s.
As for featuring Jack Daniel’s in a series in which characters may drink to excess, as one young executive does at his bachelor party in the first episode, Mr. Bacon said: “Responsibility is a cornerstone of all our advertising. Whenever we can, we would like to convey the message of responsible consumption.”
source: New York Times
author: Stuart Elliott