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Social media is key to success for product placement and licensed merchandise in the TV arena

May 14, 2011 |  6:30 am

Bebe for 90210
While researching my piece on the state of product placement on television that runs in Sunday's Image section, one of the first people I called was Frank Zazza, founder and CEO of a company called iTVX, which measures the value of product placement -- particularly on TV -- and helps its clients develop a strategy to increase the value of that screen time.

Zazza will be the first to tell you he has the bona fides -- he's the guy who put Reese's Pieces in the movie "E.T." and Junior Mints in "Seinfeld" -- but the most interesting stuff he had to say wasn't about the seemingly straightforward product placement from days gone by, but how nuanced it's become.

In the piece I quote him talking about "brand essence" and the way products can be plugged without even being mentioned by name. He shared an example which I thought was really fascinating -- but since it didn't apply directly to fashion or style, I didn't end up including it. 

"Infiniti is a sponsor of NCAA men's basketball," Zazza said. "And their tagline is 'inspiration.' So there

will be something like a halftime show or a segment during a break in the game where someone like [Duke University's] Coach K is sitting there with an Infiniti in the background and he'll talk about how he 'inspires' his players, and what 'drives' them -- mentioning all these key phrases that are written right into the script."

"Then, right after that an Infiniti commercial will air that hits all the same hot buttons and key phrases and reinforces that brand essence in a away that feels organic and seamless."

And eye-opening, I might add.


Something else that didn't make the print version of the piece was any mention of licensed products aka "branded entertainment merchandise" -- essentially the flip side of product placement where merchandise is derived from -- instead of placed in -- a given film or TV property.

Some good examples -- on the big screen -- come from Disney Consumer Products who've cobbled together all kinds of tie-ins for movies like "Alice in Wonderland," "Tron: Legacy" and the "Pirates of the Carribbean" franchise. It exists on television too -- video games and co-branded Brother sewing machines for "Project Runway" fans, for example, or dresses and home delivery meal plans inspired by "Dancing With the Stars."

But when it comes to licensed or co-branded clothing, especially garments that both appear on screen and in stores at the same time, there's always been a timing issue to overcome -- until the launch of the Bebe for 90210 women's collection earlier this year.

When I spoke with Liz Kalodner, EVP and GM of CBS Consumer Products ("90210" airs on the CW Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS), she confirmed for me that while branded entertainment merchandise and product placement are two vastly different animals, they both can benefit greatly from the use of social media.

"There’s so much going on on Facebook for this collection, on Twitter, via email blasts and on the web from both the Bebe and CW side," Kalodner said. "Bebe has engaged bloggers on their Facebook page to post their favorite looks from the collection."

"This is an audience that’s online and paying attention to social media, and has this real emotional connection. In addition to the bricks-and-mortar sales were'd doing suprisngly strong online sales -- and I think that speaks to the tremendous effectiveness of social media."

Kalodner wouldn't divulge specific sales of the collection to date, saying only that while the first delivery in February went to just 45 Bebe stores, by the second delivery four weeks ago, distribution had expanded to all Bebe doors across the country. 

-- Adam Tschorn

Bebe and 90210 team up for a new clothing line

Photo: Actress Jessica Stroup (left, as Erin Silver) wears the the Hanky Hem Tank Top ($49) and Dark Denim Skirt ($89) from the Bebe for 90210 collection in a scene with Jessica Lowndes (as Adrianna Tate-Duncan) in an upcoming episode of the CW Network's "90210." Credit: Michael Desmond / The CW.