Proliferation of Reality TV and Cable Channels Opens Opportunities to Smaller Brands

Jun 13, 2012

Topic: Retail

Can’t afford a national celebrity to garner free media or a multi-million dollar deal to equip meteorologists on The Weather Channel? Maybe you should consider product placement. Thanks to a proliferation of niche cable channels and reality TV programming — many with limited budgets for props — there are more appropriate and affordable product placement opportunities for outdoor brands than ever before.

“There are so many opportunities for outdoor brands today,” said Jen Taylor, a partner and director of creative development and public relations at Mountain Khakis. “Sometimes they come to us and sometimes we come to them, but everybody needs product and sometimes their budgets are so low that they can’t afford to buy product or get in front of the larger brands.”

Mountain Khakis garnered huge traffic last year when it provided the crew and family featured in an episode of “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” with apparel, Taylor said. Mountain Khakis is now working on another episode of the show that will air around Thanksgiving 2012. The show featured 224 instances of product placement in 2011, placing it fourth on a list of the Top 10 Primetime Programs with Product Placement compiled by Nielsen.

In April, Mountain Khakis announced that it had been selected as the apparel partner for “Outside Today,” a television show on the Outside Television cable channel, which is produced by the same company that publishes Outside magazine. What makes these examples so relevant for smaller companies is that Mountain Khakis was able to place its product on both shows without paying a fee, which can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“We have a very grassroots budget for that sort of thing, so it’s all been about developing relationships and establishing a dialogue that encourages creativity and opportunity and exploring ideas,” Taylor said.

In instances where the brand is pitching a show, it’s important to demonstrate how you can add value beyond just donating product, such as by marketing the engagement through social media and in other marketing channels.

“You really have to be thinking outside the box,” Taylor said. “We tell them we may be small, but we have a very dedicated and loyal fan base and have an opportunity to be an influencer on behalf of that partner. You’ve got to call those things out and leverage that.”

Smaller brands must be prepared to be bumped by larger brands that can afford to pay fees — sometimes at the last minute.

“We always shoot for being the official lifestyle apparel in any of our marketing partnerships, and we kind of sealed the deal once and were kicked out at the last minute by a large company that came in with cash,” Taylor said. “Even when things are in writing, the situation can change and it’s important to say, ‘That’s okay. It’s business. I understand. Let’s keep the dialogue going.’”

Another outdoor brand that has become skilled at unpaid product placement is C4 Waterman of Honolulu. Hawaii is a hotbed for television and film production, and when producers need stuntmen or extras for paddling, SCUBA, surfing, jet skiing or other water stunt work, C4 Partner Brian Keaulana often gets the call. As a result, C4 Waterman’s apparel, paddles and boards have appeared in a host of programs, including “Hawaii 5-O,” “The Biggest Loser” and the final episode of this year’s “The Amazing Race.”

“They only need the gear for a couple of weeks, so in lieu of paying a product placement fee, we loan them the product,” said, said C4 Waterman CEO Todd Bradley.

C4 Waterman has also garnered millions of impressions by donating gear to non-profits and environmental activists. Last week, for instance, photos emerged in the media of two men posing with C4 Waterman paddles promoting their attempt to become the first people to stand-up paddle across the Gulf Stream from the Bahamas to Miami. The adventure aimed to draw attention to the growing threat plastics pose to the oceans.

Bradley said he is contacted from time to time by companies offering product placement opportunities only to learn they want a fee of as much as $10,000. He politely declines.

”Nowadays, cash is tough for companies to come up with regardless of how large they are,” said Bradley. “So I tell people, I can’t give you money, but I make a lot of stand-up boards so what do you need? That’s how a lot of us guerilla marketers operate.”