'Apprentice' has sponsors despite ratings drop

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NEW YORK – Kodak, Quiznos and Pedigree are among more than half a dozen major advertisers who have paid exorbitant integration fees for starring roles in "Celebrity Apprentice" despite disappointing ratings and a cast that has been criticized for its lack of top-name celebrities.

Quiznos' integration calls for celeb contestants to make and sell their own version of Flatbread Sammies, a just recently launched $2 gourmet sandwich. The contestants take over Quiznos restaurants in New York City as part of their challenge in which they are judged on both their culinary creativity and sales skills.

The celebs who will be competing for over a million dollars for their favorite charities include Trace Adkins, Carol Alt, Stephen Baldwin, Nadia Comaneci, Tiffany Fallon, Jennie Finch, Nely Gaian, Marilu Henner, Lennox Lewis, Piers Morgan, Omarosa, Toto Oritz, Vincent Pastore and Gene Simmons.

Executive producer Mark Burnett said he was very happy with the celebrity cast members, who all had to have a current or previous business or a keen business sense, as well as an understanding of the show and its demands, such as working 20 hours a day in the cold on New York City streets.

One media agency executive noted that the celebrity involvement with creating products and marketing campaigns for brands could be conceived as celebrity endorsement and possibly be an issue for some of the talent on the show. But "Apprentice" star and co-executive producer Donald Trump said the issue never came up. And Burnett said that because of the charity element of the show, the celebrities' associations weren't perceived as endorsements. But two express celebrity endorsement deals are currently being negotiated between brands and cast members, he said.

Kodak's task involves contestants creating and operating a mobile printing shop for its EasyShare all-in-one inkjet printer, as well as figuring out ways to market and sell the printer with the help of Kodak digital cameras.

Kodak plans to integrate ideas that emerged from the show into its own marketing campaigns for the printer, which was introduced into the market last January.

Kodak will also feature "Apprentice" and its role in the show in TV and print ads, direct mail, online, in-store, on packaging and in sweepstakes, promotions and event tie-ins.

"Apprentice's" integration with Nederlander involves contestants selling tickets to eight different Broadway shows. Burnett, Trump and the other brands in the show -- Crocs, Dial Yogurt Body Wash, QVC and Serta by Vera Wang -- declined to provide further details on their integrations.

Among the powerful marketing results for brands in previous seasons of "Apprentice" were Procter & Gamble experiencing the highest level of online interest in company history with 4.7 million web hits the day after its episode aired, Staples selling out of "The Desk Apprentice" created by the winning team in the first two hours of its stores opening, Pontiac selling 1,000 Solstice cars in just 41 minutes after its episode concluded and Ace Hardware stores experiencing a 13% sales increase in the week after its integration, according to the show.

Advertisers said even if "Apprentice" ratings are weak, the show presents such a strong marketing platform that is was worth the pricey integration fees, which are said to be going for $1 million to $3 million per episode –- not too far off from the amounts the show commanded at the height of its popularity.

"Do advertisers actually want ratings?," asked Burnett. "What they really care about is do they sell stuff off shelves, are cars being driven off of lots, and are products being consumed."
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