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On TV, merchandise gets a starring role

That handbag the star carries is probably not by chance. As DVRs allow viewers to skip commercials, product placement gains ground.

September 13, 2009|Adam Tschorn

When Bravo's "NYC Prep," hit the airwaves earlier this summer, it looked like any other unscripted reality show, this one following a pack of privileged Upper East Side private-school girls. But there was one very unreal -- make that surreal -- category of merchandise making its debut in the midst of all the teen angst: a quartet of $595 leather handbags named for, and carried in the show by, each of the four female leads.

A collaboration between the accessories line Kooba and Bravo TV, the bags included the navy blue leather Camille ("made for a girl with high standards") and the Taylor bag (designed for someone who can "sashay into any social scene").

No matter that the pricey purses were nothing more than existing Kooba styles rendered in new colors -- the joint effort managed to crack through the clutter of more traditional product placement and had style blogs buzzing to boot.

According to industry experts, when it comes to fashion, Bravo's bags are barely the tip of the product-integration iceberg. The not-too-far-future holds the promise of fashion-plot mash-ups that could turn a "Mad Men" ad campaign for London Fog raincoats into a real-life London Fog ad campaign or transform the dresses designed by a "Gossip Girl" into a product line at a store near you.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 17, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Product tie-ins: An article in Sunday's Image section about how product placement in TV shows is being used to market fashion said incorrectly that the new "Melrose Place" had a co-branding tie-in with limited-edition OPI nail polish. The OPI tie-in was with the new "90120."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 20, 2009 Home Edition Image Part P Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Product tie-ins: An article in the Sept. 13 Image section about how product placement in TV shows is being used to market fashion said incorrectly that the new "Melrose Place" had a co-branding tie-in with limited-edition OPI nail polish. The OPI tie-in was with the new "90210."

As commercial-skipping, time-shifting viewers cut into the traditional revenue model of cable and network television, a line-blurring approach to merchandising what's seen on the small screen suggests the possibility of a new revenue stream. And a new way to shop.

"Studios and networks are now facing the same problems the music world is going through," said Stephanie Savage, an executive producer and writer on the CW's "Gossip Girl." "And the music world responded with, 'Well, if we're not selling records anymore, then what else can we sell and still be artist-based and in the realm of music?'

"That's why you've got things like Dr. Dre headphones and ring tones, and Gwen Stefani and Justin Timberlake have clothing lines."

Television, Savage said, "will likely undergo a similar shift where the [work] becomes less about producing shows that are going to be licensed to and watched on a broadcast network and more about finding other revenue streams."

Currently, Savage said, it's helpful to divide fashion tie-ins, cameos and partnerships into two camps: "inside the show" and "outside the show."

"Outside" is about raising awareness -- trying to reach an audience that might not have seen the show. That strategy explains last season's "Gossip Girl" partnership with, which consisted of a portal on the online retailer's site that allowed a customer to shop a character's "look." In return, a Bluefly bag appeared on-screen in one scene, and a character is shown shopping on the site in another.

This season, the retail partnership kicks it up a notch. The show returns to TV on Monday night, the day after a "Gossip Girl"-inspired, Anna Sui for Target collection debuts exclusively at the department store. (Target is the sponsor of the season premiere, and the first commercial for the collection airs during the show.) Savage said the only consideration involved was promotional exposure -- no money changed hands.

AMC's recent marketing partnership with Banana Republic is another "outside the show" fashion tie-in. The cable channel's promotion put "Mad Men" posters in the windows of Banana Republic stores across the country and an eight-page style guide in the hands of customers to help them create the show's signature early '60s Madison Avenue look from the chain's existing merchandise. (Never mind that much of the show's look comes from Brooks Brothers, which has outfitted many of the men of the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency over the last three seasons.)

The "inside the show" strategy is exactly what it sounds like -- direct placement of people or product within the confines of the show's story arc. Said Savage, "Having [designers] Tory [Burch] and [Marchesa's] Georgina [Chapman] playing themselves . . . is a great association for us. It cements us in this Women's Wear Daily editorial space."

"Gossip Girl" is not alone with its "inside the show" strategy. "NYC Prep" sent one of its New York City teens -- and aspiring fashion publicists -- padding around New York Fashion Week and interning for designer Carmen Marc Valvo.

And as far as actually harvesting the fruits of the television-fashion synergy, Bravo seems to be leading the pack. On "The Fashion Show," the cable network's "Project Runway" replacement, which premiered May 7, winning designs were offered up on Bravo's website every week (and shipped with a personal note from the designer as well as styling tips).

And Bravo recently inked deals to merchandise knives, floral arrangements and wine from "Top Chef" and will move further into fashion with this fall's "Launch My Line," a reality show that will see one established fashion designer and one wannabe launch the latter's line for public consumption.

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