Bravo Serves Up ‘Chef’ Sponsors

Feb 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Bravo is baking four big sponsors into its highly anticipated new series “Top Chef.”

Products from Sears, Toyota, Clorox and America Online will be featured in the program, which premieres March 28, after the season finale of the network’s “Project Runway.” Terms of the integrated ad deals were not disclosed.

It’s relatively easy to slip products into reality shows, but Bravo programming has proved a fertile ground for integrated ad deals because of the desirability to advertisers of Bravo’s hip, upscale audience.

“We address the young, affluent and influential audience that a brand can use to build a whole marketing platform around, not just deliver a 30-second commercial to,” said Mark Miller, senior VP of sales for the NBC Universal Cable Entertainment Group.

Mr. Miller credited Bravo’s track record with the network’s success in attracting sponsors. Data from IAG Research found that brand recall of Sprint products integrated into Bravo’s “Blow Out” achieved double the brand recall of the average integration in cable reality. IAG also ranked Bravo as the overall top network-broadcast or cable–for brand opinion improvement in its product placements.

NBC Cable subscribes to IAG’s data, but it won’t use them as the basis for guaranteeing that its integrations are effective. “This isn’t another metric to guarantee on. I think if anything it’s a proof of performance opportunity that just validates what we’re doing in the marketplace,” Mr. Miller said.

He added that “If you asked five different marketers, all five would give you different definitions of what they look for in [return on investment]. … Ultimately, you have to understand that and then figure out how you’re going to prove to them that you’re delivering on their individual requests.”

Mr. Miller said “Top Chef” also provides a unique opportunity for food marketers looking to do product integration. Food Network, owned by Scripps Networks, does not place sponsors’ products in its shows. (Scripps does integrate products into short-form vignettes and into “custom programming” that is clearly marked and runs in fringe time periods.)

Each “Top Chef” sponsor is expected to get significant play in the series.

Sears, a new advertiser to Bravo, has provided Kenmore Elite appliances for the professional kitchen the contestants will use. Representatives of the company helped show the contestants how to use the appliances’ special features. The winner of the show will also receive a Kenmore Elite Kitchen, provided by Sears.

Mr. Miller said Sears has bought spots on the network beyond “Top Chef.” “It was not a single-show buy,” he said, calling spending “significant.”

The contestants will be transported around the San Francisco area, where the show is set, in four Toyota Highlander hybrids. In one episode, meals are transported to the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco in the Highlander. Mr. Miller declined to say whether a car would be awarded to the winner of the competition.

Toyota felt it fit in the show because some of the chefs would be cooking with organic ingredients. “That environment seemed very attractive to us as a hybrid,” said Rob Donnell, president of Brand Arc, an agency that handled the integration for the automaker. “I think it helps get the clear air/green machine message across.”

The sponsorship should also give the Highlander hybrid some visibility, Mr. Donnell added.

He said the production team was easy to work with: “We had good communications and we had some good ideas that were coming to us.”

The chefs were able to use the AOL search engine to look up background information on the celebrity guest for whom they were making dinner-Ted Allen of Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” AOL’s e-mail and text messaging will also be shown as the chefs receive correspondence from family and friends.

Mr. Miller said Bravo’s integrated deals would also include sponsorship of online content, but those aspects were still being developed.

“We’re looking to grow other new media platforms that could involve some of this content, some of which … we haven’t completed all the negotiations around,” he said. “If there’s anything that we’ve changed, it’s really being a more multiplatform offering, as opposed to just the on-air offerings.”