"The Apprentice" Wins Product Placement, But No Commercial Spot

NBC's "Apprentice" handled its branded entertainment deal with Lamborghini last night like dessert--like gelato.

Last season "The Apprentice" got a gelato maker, Ciao Bella Gelato, involved in a task in the show. That small company--which had a small marketing budget to begin with--didn't buy any TV advertising time on NBC. This year, another product of Italian descent with a higher price tag--the wildly expensive, super-fast car, the Lamborghini--was involved in a task. That company also failed to buy any NBC TV commercial time in the show.

Last night, Excel (the men's team) and Capital Edge (the women's), came up with a TV and print campaign that was reviewed by a hotshot creative, Linda Kaplan Thaler of Kaplan Thaler Group. In somewhat of a surprise, the women won by outdoing the men, who believed only they really knew how to drool over fast, expensive cars with weird-opening doors. The ladies over-machoed the men with the tag line: "Do you need permission? Prove it."



Behind the scenes, there were other winners: the show's producer, Mark Burnett, for one. Burnett grabbed a cool car, and maybe some $2 million (the going rate for such placements on "Apprentice"), from Lamborghini.

Of course, maybe the car marketer wasn't charged that much--the cars alone could have helped the production budget. No matter. Lamborghini, of course, got the association and the exposure from a still-well-rated network show.

The loser? That was probably NBC. Here's why: Last year Marianne Gambelli, executive vice president of advertising sales for NBC, pleaded with advertisers during an industry event in Los Angeles to spend money on NBC's schedule if--at the same time--they were going to spend a couple of million on a product integration deal.

Yet, unlike other product integration deals from last season with "The Apprentice"--for Dove Body Wash, Burger King, Pepsi Edge, and other products--there was no media buy last night for the Italian car.

Why not? As any student of TV advertising can tell you, Lamborghini's marketing budget as well as its target demos don't line up well with broad-reaching prime-time network programming.

The Lamborghini has a niche audience for very high-income professionals, who don't watch TV in big numbers. Buying a spot on a prime-time network TV show would then be a waste. Maybe a TV spot might run on, say, CNBC--right in the middle of the day to attract all those high-income investors.

But here's something crucial: On another network, a product integration deal without a media buy would probably not happen--especially at ABC and CBS. If money was exchanged between a TV producer and a marketer, these networks would demand that the marketer spend money on a prime-time spot.

Although "The Apprentice" didn't have a Lamborghini ad, it had other car ads touting products a broader audience could afford--the cheaper and slower Pontiac G6 and the Ford Mustang.

The good news for NBC--Pontiac and Ford are repeat customers.

And those car doors open easily.

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