Brandtique: General Mills, 'Biggest Loser'

One of the intriguing pre-upfront parlor games this spring will be divining just how many hours of new original programming NBC will fill its fall schedule with. If the network wanted, it could probably leverage Leno five nights a week (at 10) to set an all-time record for the fewest new hours.



Consider this playbook:

"Chuck" and "Heroes" come back Mondays, then Leno follows at 10. Zero new hours needed there.

Tuesday brings "Biggest Loser" and "SVU," leading into Leno. Zero.

"Deal or No Deal" and "Law & Order" return on Wednesdays. Zero.

Thursday: If "Kath & Kim" gets chopped, half an hour needed.

Friday: "Dateline," another "Deal" and Leno. Zero.

Saturday is repeats and Sunday is football. Zero.

Total new programming: .5 hours.

It won't happen that way--well, maybe if GE stock goes below $8--but it is remarkable how little space NBC could leave itself to fill from scratch.

But if the network agreed to do something as scant as that now, then it might still be able to slash pilot spending and profits--already expected to go up with the Leno gambit--and might have more lift-off.



And if NBC extends "Biggest Loser" to two hours as it frequently does, then there's more potential upside on the margins. Actually quite a bit, according to this week's Entertainment Weekly, which refers to the show as "a cultural phenomenon."

The magazine says "it's relatively cheap to produce--about $800,000 an hour--and the product-placement deals ... have lowered its cost even more." EW calls it "a favorite among NBC bean counters."

Save the FCC cracking down on product placement, or top media buyer Tim Spengler's soothsaying coming true, there is little question that product placement dollars will continue to flow for the show.

The chance that the FCC might enact some sort of regulation, where marketers need to clearly identify a paid product integration on the screen, came up at an advertising industry event Thursday. That was deemed a scary prospect and something that could curtail product-placement's continued growth by Kimberly-Clark marketer Mark Kaline and surely many others.

Meanwhile, at the same event, Spengler--who manages an enormous budget at agency Initiative--suggested that government intrusion or not, brand integration may soon head in a different direction. "The future of branded entertainment is more of an on the Web distribution play, as opposed to the big networks," he said. Creating your own viral videos and other branded content, rather than sliding your product into somebody else's show, is where things are going, he surmised.

But until the FCC gets involved or Spengler is proven to be on to something, expect NBC executives to continue grinning. What's remarkable, however, is that the branded integrations on "Loser" look to be a financial success despite sometimes feeling so scripted, so forced, so product-placed.

That type of contrivance was evident again on the Jan. 27 episode. There, trainer Bob Harper was charged with pitching General Mills' Fiber One cereal (one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX).

As he walked into a room, he asked two contestants what they were having for breakfast.

"Oatmeal," they said together, sounding defeated.

"Again?" he asked.


Harper then turned to another contestant looking in the cabinet for something different.

"There should be a box of Fiber One original cereal in there," Harper said. "You're going to have that for breakfast this morning ... And you know what--get rid of that oatmeal and we're going to have this cereal."

(Viewers of "Top Chef" a day later might have been confused. Quaker Oats promoted its oatmeal in the series on Bravo, a sister network of NBC's.)

On "Loser," Harper went on to tell the camera that he's trying to show the contestants that they have options in the morning. Then, he went into full spokesperson mode. "Half a cup of this Fiber One original cereal has 14 grams of fiber," he said. "That's half the daily recommended allowance for your fiber and only 60 calories."

Later, came: "I really think this Fiber One cereal is going to be a great way to start your day."

Cloying, saccharine--but likely effective. EW says "Loser" has to thread an "inspirational-versus-sensational balance."

But the "inspirational" probably trumps for many viewers. Weight loss, of course, can be an intensely personal struggle. And any possible help is surely welcomed, whether it's delivered in a too-sugary fashion or not.

Did viewers buy Fiber One the day after the show? Likely. And that may have had General Mills and NBC executives both saying: "Cool beans."





Quaker Oats

Top Chef: New York


Glade Fabric & Air

10 Items or Less


Fiber One

The Biggest Loser


Manolo Blahnik

The Last Templar



American Idol






Click here to view these placements. Data and analysis provided by iTVX.
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