Fremantle finds plenty of ways to market 'Idol'


For anyone who might think Fox's "American Idol" merchandising machine stops when the show wraps up each season -- think again. It's a different but just as extensive marketing machine of endorsement deals, merchandise licenses and a nationwide tour that kicks into gear to support the newly crowned Idol, and often the runners-up.

"The journey starts when the show finishes," says Mark Brittain, head of "Idol's" commercial division for 19 Entertainment, which co-produces the show with FremantleMedia North America. "We look for extensions that will enhance the brand and expand the number of opportunities for people to interact with it."

Take the tour -- known as "American Idol Live!" -- which ushers the winners, and some runners-up, around the country. It's wholly owned by 19 Entertainment, which is able to spearhead endorsement deals through its management of "Idol" performers. Since its inception five years ago, the tour has put on more than 200 performances, grossing $88 million, according to Billboard Boxscore data.

"We're incredibly proud of the tour. Last year, we played more than 60 dates and reached more than 600,000 people, and tickets sold out in a matter of hours," Brittain says. "It's a great opportunity for viewers to interact with the performers and launch the artists into the next phase of their careers."

The tour also serves as a lucrative profit center for selling corporate sponsorships. For example, Kellogg Co.'s Pop-Tarts brand has served as the tour's presenting sponsor for each of the past five years -- an impressive run given that most annual entertainment tours cycle through new partners every year.

On top of its estimated low-seven-figure annual sponsorship fee, Kellogg's provides the tour with valuable exposure through its retail activation programs. In 2006, the company ran a promotion offering access to online webisodes that provided a behind-the-scenes look at the "Idol" tour. Kellogg's touted the promo on product packaging and through in-store promotions and other marketing initiatives.
Additional sponsors for the 2007 tour should be announced by 19 Entertainment this spring, according to Brittain.

Elsewhere, the company extends the "Idol" brand through endorsement deals with the show's performers. For example, last year Ford Motor Co. partnered with Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks, while hair-care and cosmetics marketer Sexy Hair Concepts teamed with that season's runner-up, Katharine McPhee. Footwear company Skechers USA aligned with Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood on a global endorsement deal following the 2005 season. CAA assists 19 Entertainment in securing corporate partners for both the tour and endorsement deals.

"Idol's" growing popularity, combined with Fox Broadcasting Co.'s contract extension through 2010, has allowed the producers to cast a wider net when it comes to securing corporate partners, Brittain says.

In its most recent postshow initiative, last month FMNA and 19 Entertainment announced the inception of Idol Camp, a noncompetitive performing-arts camp for kids ages 12-15. For $2,900, the camp offers a 10-day outing featuring performing-arts classes and performances by former "Idol" contestants, music celebrities and other industry professionals.

"That's a great example of how we can take the 'American Idol' brand beyond the television show and create a significant brand extension that will enhance the 'Idol' experience," Brittain says.

To Brittain, the "Idol" brand -- and whatever light it casts on products and endorsements -- is really representative of the American dream.

"'American Idol' isn't just a television show," he says. "It's a journey about transformation that celebrates everyday people that can make it. For that reason, the brand stands for something that exists outside the television show."

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