PR TECHNIQUE: Product placement: For $200, how do you get a product on a game show?

Game-show glory isn't only sought by contestants. Clients too want a victory - exposure for their product - and placement agencies can help win that prize.

Game-show glory isn't only sought by contestants. Clients too want a victory - exposure for their product - and placement agencies can help win that prize.

It's 10am on a Monday morning, and Bob Barker is taking bets on the retail value of a Coleman camping gear package, the first gift to be featured on this episode of The Price is Right. The camera pans over the requisite blond model reclining in the tent, while a voice-over extols the qualities of the items. After ten seconds of whirlwind betting, a young Asian woman named April wins the tent, table, chairs, and lanterns. She bounds on stage in the hopes of earning more loot in a game called Barker's Bargain Bar. Her luck holds strong, and April walks away with a "stylish chair and ottoman" from Flexsteel and two "upright Airbikes," according to the deep-voiced announcer. It's now four minutes past the hour, and young April isn't the only winner. Coleman, Flexsteel, and Airbikes have all scored national TV time at a fraction of the cost of regular advertising, and incorporated their products into one of the longest-running and most popular game shows in the history of television. "It's one of the most valuable types of advertising you can do because people aren't walking out to get a glass of milk, like during a commercial," explains Richard Storrs, president of product placement specialist Creative Television Marketing. "In today's world of Tivos and people tending to zap commercials, any way that a product, service, or vacation can become an integral part of a show is really invaluable, and these types of things are fairly simple to do." Placing products or services on game shows often involves only the cost of the prize or the addition of a small fee. In exchange, clients receive at least eight seconds of airtime, and a verbal plug of the products. But knowing the product placement process is key to maximizing a client's exposure. A half-dozen companies specialize in helping agencies or clients place items on the handful of shows that regularly give prizes. While it's certainly possible to contact producers without a middleman, enlisting the aid of those who know the ropes can make the process faster and guarantee that the product will at least be looked at by the producers who make the final decisions. "It's worth it to get the most bang for your buck," says Storrs. Game shows such as The Price is Right use the most diversity of products, and offer the only outlets for clients on the low end of the retail scale. While a show such as Wheel of Fortune is only interested in high-ticket prizes that make the audience "Oooh" and "Ahhh" with desire, The Price is Right also looks for drugstore and grocery items to use in its guessing games - making it an ideal spot for a client launching a new product or trying to gain attention for an everyday, none-too-sexy purchase. "Pretty much all different kinds of consumer products can participate," explains Ben Robertson, head of Hollywood-based Game Show Placements. "They obviously can pick and choose the products they allow to be promoted, but virtually any product is applicable." However, don't assume producers are going to be doing backflips when you send them your client's new laundry detergent. "For some shows there is a sponsorship fee in addition to the items," explains Bragman Nyman Cafarelli's Kevin Jackson. Low-priced products that are not given as prizes usually require the company to pay for placement. The price varies depending on how many times a company wants the item to be featured, the popularity of the show, and the time of year it occurs. The fee will normally be around a few thousand dollars, but increases around the holidays and other high-viewership periods, and can be much higher for the most popular game shows. "For two or three hundred dollars we could run 10-second spots on PAX's Shop Till You Drop," explains Robertson. "But for something like Oprah (which sometimes gives gifts to audience members), the price can get into almost the $20,000 range." Placement companies will charge their own fees, which also take into account multiple factors. "Our company would charge a fee depending on what type of product it is, how many exposures they're looking for, usually over an annual period of time," explains Storrs. He adds that while annual retainers are the norm, occasionally per-placement fees ranging from $250-$500 are negotiated. For high-end items, the show usually doesn't charge a sponsorship fee, and offers a few seconds more of airtime. In fact, for very high-end products such as luxury cars, the show may actually pay to use the gift and feature it over a number of shows - as a sort of "grand prize." Usually, pricier products receive a 25-word description written by the company and 10 seconds of airtime. But both Storrs and Robertson caution that they key to multiple exposures is the ability to offer a range of price points for the featured prizes. For example, The Price is Right is likely to only use a tube of toothpaste once, since viewers will remember it and its cost - making the game less challenging. But if the manufacturer can supply different tube sizes, or create packages of higher-priced prizes, the show is able to use the fresh combinations more often. Coleman provides a good example - by giving away a set of camping goods instead of a single tent, the company makes it more difficult for contestants and viewers to gage the value, and leaves itself the ability to create new packages for future shows. But there are limits to what the shows will feature. The Price is Right has a strict policy against animal products, for instance. "You'll never see fur, that's for sure," confirms Storrs. "Bob Barker, he's very sensitive to animal issues." Game shows are also very touchy about separating the advertising and editorial portions of the game. While it might be a PR coup to land your client as the answer to Jeopardy's Daily Double, that's a spot that isn't for sale at any price. "The questions and the integrity of the game itself are kept apart from prize promotions. They don't really mix the two," says Robertson. -------------- Technique tips 1 Do consider hiring a game-show placement expert. Their connections make it easier to reach decision makers 2 Do create a variety of ways to feature a client, like different sizes and models of products, or varied prize packages 3 Do think beyond product clients - game shows also feature travel and services 1 Don't expect all placements to be free. Low value items may require a fee 2 Don't limit yourself to the top shows. The Game Show Network and other cable networks have a variety of popular shows 3 Don't try to place animal products on The Price is Right - Bob Barker is an animal activist

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