November 19, 2005
Goose but no gander: Sponsor plays it subtle
By Gail Schiller
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When "Iconoclasts," a
new series co-produced by the Sundance Channel and Grey Goose
Entertainment, airs on the premium cable channel Thursday
night, viewers will not see any Grey Goose vodka bottles or
brand signage in the show.
Nor will they witness featured guests Samuel L. Jackson and
Bill Russell drinking Grey Goose or extolling its virtues
despite the fact that the company's new production arm
contributed the bulk of the $15 million price tag for the
With hundreds of advertisers shelling out millions of
dollars just for the opportunity to feature their products in
films and television shows produced by others, many
branded-entertainment experts are baffled by the Grey Goose
strategy and fail to comprehend why an advertiser would be
willing to fork over enough cash to produce a film or
television show only to omit its brand from the content or, at
best, limit it to a very marginal role.
Yet it is a strategy that is now being tried by several
advertisers searching for new ways to break through the clutter
and connect with their consumers. Among the other high-profile
brands swimming against the product-integration tide are
PepsiCo.'s Mountain Dew and action-sports brand Quiksilver.
According to these advertisers, the strategy is helping
them reach audiences turned off by blatant sales pitches,
andcreates greater brand loyalty.
"This is not branded entertainment, per se," said Monsell
Darville, vp and group director at Grey Goose Entertainment,
which was established by the vodka brand in May to produce
upscale entertainment that appeals to its consumer base.
"We were actively looking for a way to do things
differently. Grey Goose is a lifestyle brand that transcends
the spirits category. We are production partners interested in
taking the Grey Goose trademark to another level."
While the show has absolutely no placement, and Grey Goose
cannot even run commercials during the program because Sundance
is a premium cable channel, the spirits brand did sponsor
launch parties for "Iconoclasts" in 20 top markets, where its
bottles and signage were prominently displayed and its flavored
vodkas were the only drinks served. Nearly three minutes of
footage from Grey Goose's Los Angeles event, including
interviews with Darville, will air before and after each
episode, giving Grey Goose at least some clear association with
Some marketing experts, especially those enmeshed in the
branded-entertainment space, are critical of the Grey Goose
"If I'm going to pay for a show, I damn well want to be in
it," Set Resources Inc. president Aaron Gordon said. "This it
totally ridiculous. Why would you not be in your own show? It
makes no sense, and it's a complete waste of money."
But other marketing experts disagreed, asserting that the
strategy would enable advertisers like Grey Goose to connect
with their consumers and even increase their sales over the
"Ultimately, it creates a halo effect," said Iris Mohr,
associate professor of marketing at St. John's University in
Queens, N.Y., and an entertainment marketing consultant.
"You'll just hear the company's name and you'll feel good about
purchasing its products. I think it helps develop a personality
for the brand and show a certain kind of lifestyle that is
associated with the brand itself."
DO THE DEW
Mountain Dew, which this year created a division called MD
Films, will release its first project -- a snowboarding
documentary titled "First Descent" -- in theaters nationwide
December 2. While Mountain Dew logos might appear on signage or
on the apparel and equipment of its sponsored athletes, there
was no concerted effort to integrate the brand any more so than
other real-life sponsors of the sport, said John Galloway, vp
sports marketing and media at Pepsi Cola North America. And
while the MD Films logo will appear in the opening credits,
many moviegoers are unlikely to recognize the connection with
the Mountain Dew brand. Galloway said there also will be no
references to Mountain Dew anywhere in the marketing for "First
Descent," including trailers and 30-second spots, but the
company has put the word out to the key influencers in the
actions-sports world since January.
"As a marketing organization, our charge is to find new,
interesting and engaging ways to reach out to consumers in a
very rapidly changing landscape," Galloway said. "This is one
experiment. I think when people see 'First Descent,' they will
be shocked at the limited product placement that they will see
within this movie. We wanted to keep it credible because we
know that people can smell brand dishonesty a mile away, and we
wanted none of that."
Galloway said Mountain Dew decided to produce the movie
when it discovered the price tag was in the same range of what
it costs Pepsi to produce a 30-second ad.
For its part, Quiksilver, which launched its entertainment
division in 2002, helped finance the surfing documentary
"Riding Giants," which opened the Sundance Film Festival in
2004; co-produced the reality show "Surfgirls," which aired on
MTV in 2003; and created a company called Union as a
distribution vehicle for actions-sports content.
Quiksilver Entertainment director Rob Colby said his unit
has four film projects in development. In addition, Union
recently sealed deals with the six largest U.S. cable operators
to distribute via video-on-demand a collection of
actions-sports films produced by different brands and
independent producers. The films, which also will be available
via Internet-based video-on-demand, will be available beginning
While the subtle marketing strategy has been called
experimental, some say it actually is rooted in the earliest
days of television, when advertisers sponsored programing aimed
at their target audiences. Grey Goose points to the Hallmark
Hall of Fame Movies, launched back in 1951, as the model that
comes closest to what it's trying to achieve.
But with Hallmark Hall of Fame movies clearly branded with
the Hallmark name, eight lengthy Hallmark commercials running
during each two-hour TV movie and about 40 bumpers and
billboards calling out the Hallmark name during the commercial
breaks, today's advertisers clearly are taking a much more
Whether the entertainment marketing tactic will proliferate
largely depends on how successful such brands as Grey Goose,
Quiksilver and Mountain Dew are with their production arms. If
Hallmark's success is any indication, more advertisers might
try their hand at producing their own entertainment content
free of product integration.
"Virtually any research that we do keeps coming back to the
fact that Hallmark Hall of Fame is what has built our brand
equity more than probably just about anything else," Hallmark
Hall of Fame Prods. president Brad Moore said. Hallmark Cards
Inc. spends about $40 million a year -- about a third of its
overall marketing budget -- producing, airing and marketing the
Hallmark Hall of Fame Movies.
But Moore warned it's a marketing tactic that doesn't
usually yield immediate results. "It's not a simple strategy
and one that apparently takes a lot of patience. It's long-term