Advertisers might have saved 'Hill' 

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RELATED: 'One Tree Hill' hits its hundredth episode

For "One Tree Hill's" current season, there's a new character on the show who has no dialogue -- yet speaks volumes. It's the department store Macy's, which has provided characters' wardrobe, had characters' designs featured in the store, and sponsored contests and in-store signings around the country.

"We're out there touching the fans," says Joe Davola, who executive produces the show with Mark Schwahn. "I don't know any other television show that does stuff like this."

And Macy's is far from alone in receiving "One Tree Hill's" love. Over five seasons on-air, "Hill" has been implementing a unique brand-integration strategy that goes far beyond the typical marketing benefits for advertisers and revenue-generating and promotional benefits for a TV show. There have been sponsored walk-on roles, concert tours and opportunities to meet the cast or even have the show filmed in a contest winner's hometown.

The end result for the show's producers and brands, according to the CW, is that fan loyalty to the show and its integration partners has deepened. The strategy might have even helped "Hill" stay on the air.

Alison Tarrant, senior vp integrated sales and marketing for the CW, says that "this show has not been just about product integration. It's been about creating programs for advertisers, where the advertiser involvement benefits the show from a cash standpoint but also gives something back to the fans. No other show in television has had a commitment to fans that advertisers have consistently funded like this show has."

It all started in the first season back in 2003, when Schwahn and Davola wanted to shoot an episode at the high school gym in Charlotte, N.C., where Michael Jordan had played. Unfortunately, they didn't have the production money in their budget -- so they reached out to ad sales to see if there was an advertiser interested in funding the shoot. They wound up partnering with Procter & Gamble's Secret antiperspirant, writing the brand into the story line by creating a Secret-sponsored cheerleading championship on the show.

Then in the second season, Avon Mark came on board to sponsor a concert tour in the show that was reflected in real life with a 17-market tour featuring many of the same cast members and musical talents. Season 3 had Sunkist sponsoring a benefit concert tour for breast cancer, mirroring the in-show six-mall concert tour that also raised funds for the same cause. The following season, Sunkist sponsored a video contest for fans, who could win an episode shot in their hometown. The winners also received walk-on roles.

Advertisers integrated into "Hill," especially those funding the extension of the show off-air, appear to be gaining ground with the series' 12-34 demographic as a result; Cadbury-Schweppes says sales increased 10% during the months Sunkist was featured on "Hill," from January to April 2006.

"The relationship met and exceeded our objectives of driving purchase and brand affinity with our Sunkist target," says Lauren Radcliffe, director of branded entertainment and partnerships for Cadbury-Schweppes. "We also found that viewers of 'One Tree Hill' had significantly higher purchase intent and favorite brand status compared to nonviewers."

By helping "Hill" fund initiatives to deepen its connection to fans, the show's integration partners might have done much more than boost their own brands -- they appear to have helped the series stay on the air.

Says tarrant, "These partnerships, by providing the additional marketing support and by providing these opportunities to bring the show to a local level with all these different programs, have absolutely helped this show get the loyal audience that it has and ultimately generate the value of keeping it on the air."     
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