In Depth

Target, Neiman Marcus Look to 'Revenge' to Launch Anticipated Holiday Collection -- Marketers Are Exclusive Sponsors of Nov. 11 Episode

By Natalie Zmuda and Brian Steinberg
Advertising Age

Target and Neiman Marcus made headlines last summer when the pair announced they would collaborate on a holiday collection. Now, they're hoping to repeat the accomplishment with an exclusive sponsorship of the Nov. 11 episode of “Revenge,” ABC's popular drama.

Target's Neiman Marcus collection will be the exclusive sponsor of the Nov. 11 episode of "Revenge," the "midseason finale" of the soapy Sunday-night series. About 10 minutes' worth of content from the marketers will unspool during the ad breaks, which viewers will have to follow across the entire hour of the drama in order to understand the story the advertiser is trying to tell.

The partnership was announced at a media event in New York where the collection -- featuring everything from cookie cutters to clutches and sweatshirts to sunglasses created by a dozen designers -- was also unveiled. It will launch Dec. 1 at both Target and Neiman Marcus. "Revenge" actress Christa Allen, who appeared briefly at the media event, said one of the reasons viewers tune in week after week is to see the luxe Hamptons lifestyle. And she noted the retailers' collection will fit in just fine, as it's full of "gold-plated deliciousness."

Target and Neiman Marcus approached ABC in the late summer about using the show as a promotional springboard. Target's chief marketer Jeff Jones says the goal is for its sponsorship of "Revenge" to be a "moment in marketing history that people remember."

"We swung big," said Mr. Jones. "We said we have no preconceptions. We want this to be as legendary as [the products] we're launching. Mike Kelley [the show's creator] took that on as a personal creative mission to see how far we could integrate it."

Mr. Jones says this partnership differs from anything else out there, describing it as a "storyline that's a subplot of the main episode, not just a takeover, not product placement. It's a whole new level of integration."

And yet, Target and Neiman Marcus are the latest in a long line of advertisers to dominate specific pieces of content they think will attract a big swath of their target consumer. Procter & Gamble may have been an early proponent of the technique, buying up all the ad time in 2004 during Friday-night airings of Lifetime's "Friday Night Movie" in the summer of that year. P&G used the ad breaks to run segments of a start-to-finish makeover using products from across its portfolio of brands: Crest, CoverGirl, Clairol, Pantene and Olay. When the CW network launched in the fall of 2006, the company's Herbal Essences hair products were featured in "CWH," a newsmagazine inserted in the ad breaks of CW programs aimed at talking about what was hip in fashion or pop culture.

Others have also tested the idea. Nissan, for example, for a few seasons bought out all the inventory in the season premiere of the NBC superhero drama "Heroes," running multiple Nissan spots in the ad breaks and placing Nissan vehicles in the show and the dialogue spoken by the characters. In 2009, ABC got in on the act, albeit in slightly different fashion, authorizing "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry to devise ad segments for Sprint that would air for several weeks during fresh episodes of the drama.

This sort of stuff isn't easy to pull off. By giving Target and Neiman Marcus an exclusive sponsorship for the episode, ABC is passing up ad dollars from other advertisers. And rival retailers may want to stay away from the evening altogether, fearful that Target and Neiman Marcus' hard-to-miss message will make their commercials that evening less memorable.

Details are still being finalized as to how Target's 10 minutes of commercial time will be split up throughout the "Revenge" episode. As part of the deal, the advertisers, along with ABC will set up social-media extensions. The Target, Neiman Marcus, ABC and "Revenge" Twitter handles are all expected to tweet with the hashtag #GiftOfRevenge to promote the partnership. There will also be a complementary digital play that carries over into Hulu, tablets and ABC.com, Mr. Jones said.