Image: Remodeled room from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"
Adam Larkey  /  ABC
This photo shows a room that was remodeled by television show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
updated 6/7/2005 6:24:09 PM ET 2005-06-07T22:24:09

Marc Sklar had a plan for getting his company's window film onto the set of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." He just needed a baseball bat.

He battered a window to demonstrate to the production crew how the film protects the glass from shattering. And he spent a lot of time talking up his goods to the crew on the set in Los Angeles.

It worked. The show featured a seven-second clip of his window film, and suddenly his New York City company was flooded with calls.

"Everyone who has a house on a golf course has called me," Sklar said.

The explosion of home remodeling and decorating shows on television has afforded the makers of windows, paint, insulation and tile an alternative avenue to reach customers.

The home building suppliers can reach a target audience at a time when consumers are bombarded with advertising and can skip by television commercials with ease.

To make it happen, companies donate products and send employees to show locations just to make sure they snag a few seconds of air time. For some, there are sponsorship agreements that guarantee how much time a company logo appears on screen or how long the show's host talks about insulation.

All involved acknowledge it's difficult to measure just how much it means for the companies. Still, Toledo-based Owens Corning is convinced it pays off.

The company supplies "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" with its signature pink insulation along with roofing shingles, vinyl siding and manufactured stone. New products featured on the show, CEO Dave Brown said, build brand identity and drive more visitors to the company's Web site.

"It really jumps out at us even if we see it for two seconds," said Brown, who also tunes in home remodeling shows to check out what the competitors are up to.

Stores selling Pella windows say customer interest surged after a show featured its windows with built-in blinds, said Kathy Harkema, a spokeswoman for the company based in Pella, Iowa.

"Every day we get requests for product donations, but we're very selective who we work with," she said. Most often that means shows with a national audience.

Window maker Andersen Corp., based in Bayport, Minn., underwrites PBS' "This Old House."

"You're already getting an interested segment because it is specialized programming," said Andersen spokesman Cameron Snyder. "You want to be there when they're watching these shows looking for ideas."

"This Old House" popularized TV's home remodeling genre in the 1980s.

Its original host, Bob Vila, left in 1989 following a dispute over his commercials for a competitor of the show's major underwriter. He went on to his own nationally syndicated show.

Shows benefit
For producers of the home shows, the donated and discounted products help keep costs down.

"This Old House" doesn't allow on-air endorsements. But suppliers still are willing to donate their goods, said Bruce Irving, executive producer.

The show doesn't worry about duds because it researches products before they are used, and it selects items most people can easily find, he said. The homeowners sometimes have a hand in deciding what's installed, especially when it comes to items such as appliances or carpet.

"We don't use things that are so esoteric or experimental that they're not on the market or so out-of-sight that someone couldn't obtain them," Irving said.

Home & Garden Television, which began in 1994, brings home remodeling shows in front of viewers every day. The cable network now reaches 80 million households.

It doesn't accept any paid product placement for its shows or mention specific products or company names, said Dan Hurst, a spokesman for E.W. Scripps Co., which operates HGTV.

Product donations are accepted on some of its shows. But the exposure for the brands is more limited because logos are removed and product names aren't used.

"People look to our networks to learn how to do things," Hurst said. "We don't want anyone to think the product is on there because someone paid for it."

Building products suppliers say they don't foresee product cameos replacing traditional advertising, but their role is increasing.

New form of advertising
That's because home reality shows not only demonstrate how products work, they also throw in emotional scenes that connect with viewers.

"To have people screaming over your brand is nirvana for advertisers," said Richard Linnett, who is charged with landing product placement deals for New York-based media-buying firm MPG Entertainment.

Thirty second ads can't match that, he said.

For the most part, producers of the shows won't guarantee exposure for products, Linnett said. "They have the option to cut it out if it doesn't add to the story," he said.

Major sponsors are an exception on some shows.

Owens Corning negotiated a multiple-show deal with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" that includes perks such as providing hosts with talking points about their products, said the company's marketing director, Lynne Hartzell.

The company looked into buying a 30-second commercial spot for an estimated $300,000 but saw more value in getting their products on the show, Hartzell said. The company wouldn't discuss cost of the sponsorship.

There's another benefit to being on the TV production site. Owens Corning has picked up deals worth several million dollars while mingling with contractors, Hartzell said.

"It's almost like a trade show behind the scenes," she said.

For smaller businesses like Sklar's Glass Security LLC, there's no promise of exposure. He talked his way onto "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" during dinner Sklar had arranged with a senior producer.

On the episode last year, style designer Tracy Hutson hammered away at a window covered with security film as a crowd gathered on the set and cheered.

It was a bigger hit than the direct mailings and word-of-mouth business Sklar usually relies on. The show draws up to 17 million viewers each week.

On his second trip, Sklar thought he had secured a spot on the show again but was edited out. He won't try to score another appearance unless he's assured of making the cut.

"It was worth taking a shot," he said. "It gives you a lot of credibility with people."

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