PepsiCo readies to double down

May 27, 2002  •  Post A Comment

PepsiCo is considering taking a significant ad position in ABC’s upcoming fall interactive drama series “Push, Nevada.”
A major deal is quietly being negotiated by PepsiCo agency OMD USA.
If the most expansive version of the deal is concluded, “Push” viewers might see spots not only for Pepsi, but also for Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats and Tropicana products, all of which are units of beverage and snack-food giant PepsiCo.
Furthermore, a la some of the ad deals with CBS’s “Survivor,” PepsiCo products could also turn up as product placements inside the mystery/interactive series or as all-important clues in the “Push” tie-in games that the show’s viewers will be able to play to win big money or other prizes.
If a deal is consummated, the show could become a major showcase for other OMD clients as well.
While declining to address a specific deal, Geri Wang, senior VP, prime-time sales, ABC Television Network, did say, “We are having very specific discussions with key advertisers about the project,” and added that there are “some key guys who are very aggressively in discussion with us.”
When all is said and done, though, “Push” may be “very heavily populated by one agency’s clients,” she allowed.“We’ll keep some inventory for scatter, do some movie company business, because this is a show on Thursday nights and we think it has the potential to pop in the ratings, even though of course we face incredibly, incredibly difficult competition.”
Most media agency share estimates for “Push”-currently scheduled for 9 p.m. against “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” on CBS and “Will & Grace”/“Good Morning, Miami” on NBC-have the show doing an 8 to 9.5 household rating. But ABC itself is “venturing into double-digit territory” with its own estimates for the show, Ms. Wang said.
A Pepsi spokesman said only that any deal was “far away” from happening and that the “cola wars are alive and well, and we don’t like to tip off Coke what our marketing plans are months in advance so they can adjust.”
OMD, the agency that recently turned heads on Madison Avenue with its paradigm-shifting proposals to do billion-dollar agency-to-media deals with the likes of Disney/ABC, Viacom/CBS and AOL Time Warner [Electronic Media, May 6 and May 20], declined comment.
The Matt and Ben show
“Push, Nevada” is from LivePlanet, the production company co-founded by actor/writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The two Oscar-winning screenwriters are “really smart marketing guys,” Ms. Wang said, who are savvy about product integration and “are very mindful that advertisers are looking for opportunities that make a little bit of a splash.”
Games will be keyed to the on-air show’s story arcs and will have both on-air and online components. They are expected to attract both young viewers and the advertisers who covet them to what Sean Bailey, chief creative officer of LivePlanet, who co-created the series with Mr. Damon, calls an “interactive drama.”
Mr. Bailey said he isn’t aware of a prospective deal that would in effect take “Push” off the upfront negotiating table, but he did note that LivePlanet and Omnicom Group, OMD’s corporate parent, maintain a close relationship. “I am unaware of that deal happening,” Mr. Bailey said, calling it nonetheless an “interesting” prospect.
Such a deal, however, is close to conclusion, according to other senior sources, and, after a recent meeting with the network and the show’s producers, Pepsi continues to be strongly interested in taking at the very least a leading sponsorship position on the series.
Those with a good memory will recall that Pepsi was also attached to another ABC show from LivePlanet, “The Runner,” which had been scheduled to debut this past January.
The Internet will play a “very large role” as a game component of “Push, Nevada,” Ms. Wang said. Details of the game are currently being worked out.
Some of those game parameters were discussed for the first time at a sales meeting held just before the Memorial Day weekend. Elements of the game still under discussion will require viewers to get up from their TVs and computers and go out to their local fast-food outlet or look under soda pop bottle caps or take similar “real world” actions. “Certainly those are some of the thoughts and discussion points we are having now,” Ms. Wang said.
Interactive extras
In addition to computer-literate viewers playing the “Push” games, the games may also end up playing them-sending, for example, e-mails to viewers who sign up, Mr. Bailey said. He cited the online game created for Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” last summer and “Majestic,” an Electronic Arts game that featured strong interactive elements, including e-mails, phone calls, instant messages and faxes from the game to its players.
LivePlanet’s previous ABC show, “The Runner,” never made it to air. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, a chase across America didn’t seem quite as innocent and lighthearted, and the network shelved the show. Whether that show, which last summer had heat with product-placement-minded advertisers, will come back or not is “under discussion,” according to a senior network source. The show’s high concept required that the titular runner, pursued by professional hunters and by prize-minded regular viewers, had to reach a specific destination without being caught. As part of the game, the runner, of course, might have to stop in at a particular Starbucks or McDonald’s. Hence, the tie-in opportunities.
Similarly, “Push” is designed to involve advertisers more directly with TV viewers. In the show itself, a “Twin Peaks”-like mystery that involves a search for missing money is played out. ABC takes pains to point out that the show can be enjoyed simply as a well-scripted and well-acted mystery.
Figuring out how much money has been stolen from a casino in Push, Nevada, will be one of the elements in solving the first game’s puzzle, Mr. Bailey said. “Most likely there will be a new game for every arc of the show,” he said. “In the first arc [the prize] will be a large sum of money; in the second go-round it may be a missing Matisse.”
The show’s story lines will play out in four- to six-week arcs, Susan Lyne, ABC’s new Entertainment president, said during the network’s recent upfront presentation, calling “Push” “hugely promotable.”