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Makeover shows are an ad bonanza

John Seewer Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio — 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 it worked. The show featured a seven-second clip of his window film, and suddenly his New York City company, Glass Security LLC, was flooded with calls.

“Everyone who has a house on a golf course has called me,” Sklar said. It was a bigger hit than the direct mailings and word-of-mouth Sklar usually relies on. The show draws up to 17 million viewers each week.

The explosion of home remodeling and decorating shows on television has given the makers of windows, paint, insulation and tile an alternative avenue to reach a target audience that can easily fast-forward their TiVos past the glut of ads on TV. Although the how-to shows attract large advertisers — such as Sears, Roebuck & Co., a sponsor of “Extreme Makeover” or Home Depot, which backs the popular “Trading Spaces” — a growing number of smaller, specialized companies are getting in on the act.

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 a product.

None of the companies or shows will reveal just how much they pay to place products on air. But the practice is booming, thanks to a bumper crop of home-improvement shows that cater to a nationwide remodeling fixation. The cable spectrum now includes entire channels dedicated to home improvement, such as DIY Network and Discovery Home.

All involved acknowledge it’s difficult to measure just how much it means for the companies. The advertising and media industries are still struggling to develop a reliable yardstick for product placements on entertainment shows.

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.

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

That’s because home improvement 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.

“You’re already getting an interested segment because it is specialized programming,” said Cameron Snyder, spokesman for window maker Andersen Corp. “You want to be there when they’re watching these shows looking for ideas.”

Andersen, based in Bayport, Minn., underwrites PBS’ “This Old House,” which pioneered the 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.

Not all TV outlets are so quick to embrace product placement. Home & Garden Television doesn’t accept any paid product placement or mention specific products, said Dan Hurst, a spokesman for E.W. Scripps Co., which operates HGTV. The cable channel, which began in 1994, reaches 80 million households with 24 hours of home decorating and remodeling programming daily.

“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.”

But for most 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, he said. The homeowners sometimes have a hand in deciding what’s installed, especially when it comes to items such as appliances or carpet.

For the most part, producers of the shows won’t guarantee exposure for products, Linnett said. They have the option to cut a product segment out if it doesn’t add to the show’s story, he said.

Major sponsors — who also pay cash in addition to supplying products — are an exception.

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