By David Schwab, managing director of Octagon First Call
Entering its 19th season tonight, ABC's Dancing With the Stars features a new judge (former pro dancer turned actress Julianne Hough), a large crop of new pros, and of course, a brand new cast. As marketers tune in this season, here are four things to keep top of mind throughout this cycle.
• Contestants to Watch
At first glance, Season 19's most interesting name seems to be Bethany Mota, a YouTube star with a massive millennial fan base. She may not be a household name now, but her star has risen quickly as one of the faces of YouTube's national ad campaign, and she recently landed the cover of Seventeen magazine. DWTS will help boost her profile from computer screen to mainstream. We expect beauty, young fashion and technology brands to be playing close attention to her.
Perhaps the biggest name this year is Lolo Jones. As both a summer and winter Olympian, Jones regularly garners significant media attention. She has already enjoyed brand deals (BP, Red Bull) and will continue to do so leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. A DWTS stint will allow Jones to broaden her reach outside the Olympics/sports space and into mainstream and lifestyle categories, where she will have more longevity post-Olympics.
• The ABCs of Casting DWTS
While Mota and Jones are standouts this season, the cast as a whole comes off as a bit vanilla. As always, DWTS has seemingly found a casting formula it feels delivers well—and is sticking to it.
The cast includes an Olympian (Jones), a comedian (Tommy Chong), an older competitor (Betsey Johnson), youth-appealing talent (Mota and Pretty Little Liars actress Janel Parrish), a reality star (Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty), a media personality (Tavis Smiley), "tough guy" pro athletes (Randy Couture and Michael Waltrip), Hollywood heartthrobs (Antonio Sabato Jr. and Jonathan Bennett) and celebs who appeal to audience nostalgia (Alfonso Ribeiro of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Lea Thompson of Back to the Future).
• Types of Deals That Work
Because the show is only on the air for a few months, PR, social media, hospitality and corporate speaking are the types of marketing deals that typically make the most sense for DWTS talent to take advantage of their increased appeal and attention.
These activities allow marketers to quickly leverage the current relevance of the show, whereas advertising would not hit until after the show is over and buzz has died down. In season, DWTS celebs get weekly exposure on top entertainment outlets including Ellen, Extra and Access Hollywood, making them that much more valuable and relevant to marketers in the short term (including products they can wear during the interviews—clothing/shoes/jewelry).
• Pros and Judges Pick Up the Slack
The pros and judges are starting to have equal if not more star power than the celebrity cast. While the celebrity talent varies season to season and brings fans in and out of the franchise, the judges and pros become anchors for the series as familiar faces.
Several fan favorites have numerous marketing partnerships and continue to hold strong value for brands, including Cheryl Burke (Depend, imPress Nails), Carrie Ann Inaba (Purina, Arnicare, USA Dance) and Mark Ballas (GlaxoSmithKline, Pepsi, Holland America). Serial champ Derek Hough is one to watch for brands, too.
Returning in a new role is former pro (now judge) Julianne Hough, who has proven to be a marketing star through her partnerships with Proactiv, FFANY and Caress, among others. The judging shakeup not only adds a new dynamic to the show (à la Erin Andrews as the new co-host last season) but also brings back a fan favorite, which producers are surely hoping brings in additional viewers as well.
Judging as opposed to returning as a pro should open up greater opportunities for Julianne. Judges and hosts are not frequently in rehearsals and competing week to week, and so they have more availability to participate in branded opportunities.
While judges Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli travel weekly between London and Los Angeles to judge on both DWTS and its British counterpart, Strictly Come Dancing, their presence on both shows could be leveraged for international opportunities and appearances, too.
—David Schwab is managing director of Octagon First Call, experts in aligning celebrities with brands to deliver a quantifiable results against company objectives. Follow him at @david_schwab.