Coming soon: A reality TV series starring Sears tools and appliances. In a new partnership that underscores the widening reach of product placement, Sears, Roebuck and Co. has signed on as chief sponsor of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a six-episode series that is in production and expected to air beginning in early 2004.
ABC AND SEARS said Wednesday the programs will showcase Sears products such as Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances and Lands’ End home furnishings while telling the stories of hard-luck families whose homes are selected for free home makeovers.
Sears commercials also will be aired as part of the package. A special hour-long premiere was scheduled to air Wednesday night.
The New York Times, which first reported the partnership Wednesday, said Sears is thought to be paying more than $1 million for the deal. Both ABC and Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears declined to discuss the financial terms. But an ABC official confirmed that it represents the television network’s biggest branded-entertainment deal yet.
Dan Longest, ABC senior vice president for integrated marketing and promotion, said it was a perfect match to secure the leading home-appliance and tool maker for a program he called “home improvement on steroids.”
“Talk about nail on the head — even their branding, ’The Good Life,’ that’s what the show is about,” he said.
Sears, meanwhile, gets to promote its products in prime time to a bigger audience than the one that stays tuned in during commercials. “It’s a great opportunity for us to partner with a new show on prime-time network TV that portrays Sears as the ultimate home solution partner,” said company spokesman Ted McDougal.
The head of an advertising watchdog group said the new show extends a disturbing trend of more and more embedded ads on television.
“’Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ is not a regular program — it’s an infomercial for Sears,” Gary Ruskin, director of Commercial Alert, said Wednesday from Portland, Ore. “It’s not just product placement, it’s product integration, plot placement, title placement, paid shills, virtual ads. Increasingly, television is turning into an infomercial medium.”
The consumer group, which was founded by Ralph Nader, filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission this fall, asking them to enact stricter rules concerning the use of such advertisements.
The new ABC program will carry scenes of trips to Sears stores, trucks delivering merchandise from Sears to the homes and visits by Sears repair workers who will use Craftsman tools in their home-improvement work.
Ads aside, Longest said the focus will be on the families’ story. “Our first goal is always to develop the best programming possible,” he said.
Sears officials also said they have been sensitive to criticism about branded entertainment.
“It’s obviously something that needs to be integral or natural to the program, which in the case of home improvement is a totally logical and authentic place for Sears to be,” McDougal said. “Consumers would not be fooled by forced sponsorship.”
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