While America's obsession with reality TV may go back decades, our beloved national fixation undoubtedly has intensified since March.
According to Nielsen, the premiere of "The Bachelorette" drew 5.85MM viewers, up +5% versus the last season premiere.
Looking at other popular shows, "Below Deck Med" saw a 267% growth from the first quarter to the third quarter -- an increase of 129 billion minutes per quarter from January to September, while "Real Housewives of New York" saw 1340% growth (+45 billion minutes).
Samsung ACR data reflects the trend, noting that reality TV consumption increased by 6.5B minutes from the first quarter to the third quarter of 2020, coming in second only to news.
Where did these additional viewers come from?
With Hollywood production schedules halted, live sports stalled and consumers craving an escape, the broad audiences of sports fanatics and prime-time show junkies tuned into what shows were available.
Reality TV was given a trial opportunity that it had not been given before.
In an era of marked divisiveness, reality TV serves as a rare unifying factor that carries meaning for people across beliefs and demographics.
According to the most recent consumer survey by Simmons Research, both Democrats and Republicans are more likely than average adults to report that they watch reality television shows. Similarly, those from different backgrounds and who practice varying religions over-index for tuning into the genre.
Through reality TV show integrations, authentic brand ambassador relationships with fan favorites, or simple spoofs on the genre, brands have the rare opportunity to tap into culture and connect with a hyper-passionate, highly engaged audience across demographics.
Seamless Show Integrations
"America’s Got Talent" officially runs on Dunkin’. Since 2017, the beloved coffee brand has sponsored the show. Judges drink out of limited-edition AGT and Dunkin’ co-branded tumblers, also sold in-store. Fans of the show can access exclusive behind-the-scenes content on the show’s social channels and NBC.com, presented by Dunkin.’
The beloved donut brand took the partnership one step further this year with a "Spot the Runner Sweepstakes," encouraging viewers to keep an eye out for an in-show QR code. By scanning it, viewers could enter for a chance to win a virtual coffee chat with all-star judge, Simon Cowell.
Similarly, the UK obsession "Love Island" noticed viewers searching for music from the show while watching. In response, the show tapped Universal Music and Spotify for an integration into its 2020 debut winter season. Assorted Universal Music artists selected tracks to highlight key moments in the show, from the start of a new relationship to a breakup, with one artist even making a guest appearance for a party in the villa. When the tracks from Universal Music artists played, a co-branded ad would appear on VOD platforms pushing to the “Sounds of Love Island”playlist on Spotify.
Establishing Authentic Ambassador Relationships
When reality show contestants feel authentic to a brand, partnerships work. Many former contestants of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" have used their screen time to propel them into the influencer marketing space.
REVOLVE has tapped some of the franchise's most fashion-forward contestants to help promote its clothing lines.
In 2018 alone, partnerships with Lauren Bushnell, Ashley Iaconetti, Amanda Stanton, and more made the brand $6.2M in earned media value, according to Tribe Dynamics.
In Peter Weber’s season earlier this year, featured a date sponsored by REVOLVE. Contestants went to the brand's Social Club in LA, where they participated in a fashion show judged by REVOLVE’s Chief Brand Officer Raissa Gerona.
Leaning into Genre Love
Brands have also leaned into America's reality-show obsession without actually partnering with a show. Taco Bell’s newest 15-second commercial opens with an announcer saying, “Have you really watched 20 hours of 'Introvert Island'?" and closed with a $5 offer for its Chalupa Cravings Box. The mention of "Introvert Island," a fake reality TV show, sent viewers down an internet rabbit hole in search for the show.
In less than five days of posting the spot to its YouTube Channel, Taco Bell racked up 7.3M views. Consumers took to social to talk about the ad. “I really searched introvert island because of this commercial, I thought it was a real show,” one YouTube comment read. Another tweet cites, “@tacobell I would totally watch Introvert Island. Well done! #chalupa.”
Brands should continue to lean into this approach, engaging with reality TV and in turn, reaching a wider audience.
This genre will play a bigger role for content providers
As we head into 2021, reality will continue to be our escape from…reality. The intimacy and relatability is something we will continue to crave while locked at home this winter.
The reality TV pipeline will remain strong.We will see more and more content providers, beyond the networks, dabble in the genre. Netflix has already started paving the way with this year's hits "Love Is Blind" and "The Circle."
Brands too should take notice. Reality lends itself to shorter production timelines — which allows brands additional opportunities to integrate. Typical timelines often conflict with planning schedules, but the fluidity of reality will open up new ways for brands to escape the confines of the :30.
But more than that, it offers brands the opportunity to demonstrate how they fit into real people's lives.