July 31st, 2008

Unilever's Degree Nabs Starring Role on Sci Fi Channel

By Andrew Hampp
Advertising Age

When it comes to branded entertainment, Unilever likes to instigate a little bit of sibling rivalry to boost results. The company challenged NBC Universal’s Sci Fi Channel last year to create a branded-entertainment package that could top the one created by the network’s cable sibling USA for “The Starter Wife,” which made Pond’s a pivotal part of the miniseries’ plot.

Although Sci Fi’s roster of futuristic and supernatural programming such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “Ghost Hunters” doesn’t seem like a natural fit to integrate brands, the network’s marketing team was nevertheless able to give Unilever’s Degree deodorant a featured role in the third season of its hit dramedy “Eureka,” with an integrated-marketing campaign to boot.

Experimental media
Ads for the show’s new season have contained the tagline “Over-engineered by the new Degree for Men Absolute Protection,” and with good reason. The brand is at the center of the show’s consumer-products lab, where the town’s residents conduct experiments on new products using high-performing ingredients. One of the innovations the group ends up creating is a next-generation deodorant, which is where Degree comes in.

“It’s less about stopping you from sweating, but more about saving the world,” said Blake Callaway, Sci Fi’s VP-brand marketing.

Degree made an appearance toward the end of the season premiere of “Eureka,” which had its debut Tuesday night to a 2.1 household rating, winning its time slot among cable households (a rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on). Later this season, the brand will be fully integrated into the storyline, where “the product is actually going to be the hero,” Mr. Callaway said.

Micro-site and toll-free line also busy
The integrated-marketing campaign is also starting to show results. The first few weeks of traffic to Sci Fi’s custom micro-site for the show, madeineureka.com, have already prompted 30,000 orders for free samples of Degree, Mr. Callaway said, thus surpassing Unilever’s initial goals. The network also created mock infomercials for its fake “Eureka” products as well as Degree, and even created a toll-free number consumers could call to learn more about the products. Those who call 866-40-EUREKA can register for weekly “Eureka” alerts, order custom wallpaper and ringtones for their phones, and learn more about how Degree is the “new name in future-ready sweat defense.”

Although season three is only one episode under way, Mr. Callaway said the network already has advertisers lined up for season four. “I think this has definitely opened up the door to show that Sci Fi is about imagination. We’ll work with any brand out there.”

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