Sunkist brand gets behind CW's 'One Tree Hill'

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NEW YORK -- When "One Tree Hill's" Sunkist-sponsored episode that was shot in Honey Grove, Texas, airs May 9 on the CW, it will be the latest in a series of branded entertainment initiatives that parent company Cadbury Schweppes has turned into the focal point of its brand marketing campaigns in an effort to get the most bang for its buck from networks and producers.

Cadbury Schweppes vp media Alice Nolan said the strategy has been effective, allowing a company with a much smaller marketing budget than its competitors to score high-profile integrations and branded entertainment campaigns without having to pay integration fees or up its media commitments -- though it does sometimes have to pay limited fees for marketing rights.

"In our categories, we're definitely very outspent, so every penny is critical," Nolan said. "So we developed a process and strategy that would really stretch our dollars and programs further. We've done a 360-degree marketing approach, and I think that's made a difference in terms of having success with various networks and producers.

"There are a lot of companies doing integrations, but it may not be something the entire brand is getting behind. We make the integration a focal point of our whole marketing plan. For Sunkist, this is it: 'One Tree Hill' is our big marketing effort for the year."

Nolan said Cadbury took a similar tack when integrating Snapple into NBC's "30 Rock" this fall and Sour Patch candy into ABC Family's "Kyle XY" last year (the episode also aired on ABC). Cadbury's Stride gum also will make its upcoming integration deal with Fox's "The Loop" a focal point of its marketing strategy, she said.

"In each of these cases, we've been able to work in a way that we feel has really gone above and beyond that one integration," Nolan said. "We're aggressive, we get in there early and we definitely know the show inside and out, so we can figure out the best way for the brands to work together."

Nolan said that as a result of this branded entertainment strategy, the company does not pay any additional fees for integration, nor does it have to increase its network media buys. "We absolutely have to buy less media because of our promotions," she said. "They're a lot of work and we're also spending money on the promotions. We found out that point-of-purchase materials are definitely valuable in these deals. They definitely sweeten the pot, especially for newer shows."

The CW declined comment on the terms of Sunkist's deal with "Hill" but acknowledged its marketing dollars are factored into the equation. "We look at all the pieces a brand is bringing to the table and evaluate them on a case-by-case basis," said Alison Tarrant, senior vp integrated sales and marketing for the CW. "Marketing is a value to the show, so we factor that into the overall proposal."

In the case of "Hill," Sunkist -- which last year sponsored a fictional concert on the show that raised money for breast cancer awareness, and then backed a real-life mall tour with the show's cast to promote the season's soundtrack and raise real money for the same cause -- decided to extend its relationship with the series even further this season.

By sponsoring a contest that awarded the winners a guest appearance and the chance to have an episode filmed in their home town, Sunkist gave fans greater access to the show and in turn built a stronger relationship with those fans, Tarrant said. The May 9 episode was shot in Honey Grove after eight teens from the town submitted the winning 30-second video describing why the show should be filmed there.

Sunkist only has "passive" product placement throughout the season as well as in the May 9 episode, in which the cast takes a road trip to Honey Grove to find their friend Mouth, but the brand has "gotten a lot of exposure on our air and with our fans by sponsoring this contest," Tarrant said.

Sunkist logos and verbal mentions are featured prominently in CW content wraps and promo spots, like the one in which show creator/producer Mark Schwahn and "Hill" cast member Hilarie Burton showed up at the winners' high school auditorium in Honey Grove to surprise them with the news.

Sunkist covered the costs of shooting the episode in Honey Grove and supported the contest online and in-stores with point-of-purchase packaging, signage and displays.

Nolan said that following its initiative with "Hill" last year, the brand not only saw an uptick in brand awareness but an incremental sales lift of about 10%. "That's why we're committed to this strategy and branded entertainment overall," she said.
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