By David Schwab, Octagon First Call
And so we begin again… it's Season 17 of Dancing With the Stars.
The show that draws more than 15 million people weekly has revitalized and jump-started dozens of careers. Last season's cast enjoyed an increase in relevance and brand appeal. Dorothy Hamill was named spokesperson for Smooth Fitness Equipment, Lisa Vanderpump became the new face of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, and Aly Raisman signed an extension deal with Pandora Jewelry, just to name a few.
Here's a look at the marketability of the newest crop:
• Amber Riley. Amber Riley belted her way into the public consciousness in 2009 as an original cast member on Fox's Glee. Though she won't be prominently featured on that show this season, the significant media coverage of co-star Cory Monteith's death will magnify the spotlight on all those associated with it. While her past experience with choreography from Glee will come in handy, Riley's magnetic personality and mediability will give her an advantage in the brand game. Some categories we like for her include cosmetics, school supplies and teen-facing cause campaigns (e.g., texting and driving). A star on the rise.
• Snooki. Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi is undoubtedly polarizing from her days as a Jersey Shore party girl, but she has worked hard over the last year to reinvent her image. As such, there are multiple new story lines with her: She's a mother. She continues to show off a dramatic weight loss. And she is preaching a lifestyle of moderation. Mainstream media may be tired of her, but she still has a very strong fan base, including more than 7 million likes on Facebook. Because viewers can vote on Facebook, Snooki could get a significant voting surplus from fans who don't even watch the show. She is already well versed in the marketing world. Recent deals include Zantrex, iHip headphones, Supre Tan and Wonderful Pistachios, to name a few. Time will tell if more brands like the new Snooki and want to work with her.
• Corbin Bleu. DWTS has met its Disney-alum quota with Bleu this year. The Disney gang typically does very well on this show—they are good dancers, and the audience loves their wholesome image. This on-screen success doesn't necessarily translate into mainstream marketing success (remember, their target audience has been kids—a lot different than the female 25-54 skew for this program). DWTS certainly will increase Bleu's appeal for appearances, though, especially at malls and other family-friendly spots. He is also a singer, and this exposure will certainly boost his music career.
• Jack Osbourne. He's part of a global, mediable family, yet one that is polarizing and controversial. He's married with a kid now, and just recently announced that baby No. 2 is on the way. While it may be tough for brands to overlook his past narcotics abuse, his story of overcoming addiction is relevant for motivational speaking or helping other addicts. Additionally, a story line that should receive a lot of play this season is Osbourne's struggle with multiple sclerosis, with which he was diagnosed in 2012. A little bird even told us that this guy can actually dance and could provide laughs for other castmates, the studio audience and the viewers watching each week.
• Christina Milian. Even though Milian hasn't released new music recently, she has stayed relevant with her recent gig as social media correspondent on NBC's The Voice. Social media is her strong suit, as she boasts over 1 million Twitter followers. No stranger to the brand game, Milian has partnered with Viva Diva Wines and Ocean Pacific in the past, and has her own hookah line. If she does well in the competition, DWTS could certainly help add to these brand deals, especially in the young, urban space.
• Valerie Harper. The former Mary Tyler Moore Show star has certainly been in the headlines lately. Her much-profiled battle against brain cancer and journey to near-remission offers a new angle and source of inspiration we haven't yet seen. The obvious fit for brands here is anything health or cause related, and she could have a very powerful story to tell on the corporate speaking circuit. Unfortunately but candidly, brands will take a wait-and-see approach because of her health.
• Keyshawn Johnson. NFL players have had a strong and successful history on DWTS, with six pro football stars placing in at least the top three since the show's first season. There is nice synergy with DWTS, and Johnson's day job as an analyst for ESPN (both under the same network umbrella) could draw ESPN advertisers that are looking to hit a more female-skewing audience. Additionally, as he started his career with the Jets, and the Super Bowl is in New York-New Jersey next year, he could be a popular pick for a few Super Bowl-related hospitality gigs.
• Leah Remini. Remini has remained a media favorite since her starring role on the popular sitcom King of Queens. Her down-to-earth personality and no-nonsense persona have made her an approachable figure among fans. That said, the heavy press concerning her recent departure from Scientology may be a red flag for brands doing public relations and media-focused campaigns.
• Brant Daugherty. As a current star on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars, a wildly popular show with teens, Daugherty could perhaps pull some younger audiences to the show. He certainly seems primed to fill the role of hunk for this season. DWTS should help broaden his appeal, but it's too early to know if this will translate into endorsement deals. Season 14 contestant William Levy, another hunk, started his season relatively unknown, finished third and ultimately landed a national advertising campaign with Pepsi NEXT.
• Bill Engvall. There should be some crossover in the audiences of DWTS and the Blue Collar Comedy group, for which Bill is best known. A family man (married with two kids) and die-hard sports fan, Bill is a Middle America guy who appeals to brands sold in Big Box stores. But perhaps his biggest upside is his standup background, ideal for hosting gigs and private comedic engagements.
• Bill Nye. The "Science Guy" on DWTS is right on trend, with the '90s making such a strong comeback in pop culture this year (e.g., New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys on tour, Boy Meets World spinoff announced). Who knows if Nye can actually dance, but brands could have fun with him, especially in the education space or on programs with dry-humor creative needs. Another area could be a short-term menswear apparel deal, as his signature bow tie will undoubtedly be featured on the show. (He also has a popular instructional video on YouTube for how to tie the perfect bow tie.)
• Elizabeth Berkley. Several '90s stars have done well on the show (e.g., Jaleel White and Mario Lopez), but with Valerie Harper and Bill Nye already filling the nostalgic-celeb roles, Berkley may not be as appealing. Additionally, compared to her former Saved by the Bell castmates (Mario Lopez, Tiffani Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Berkley has had the least media exposure over the last few years. She'll need to dance, and dance well, to improve her marketability.
We'd be silly not to mention the three professional dancers who stand above the rest as far as marketability: Cheryl Burke, Derek Hough and Mark Ballas. All are fan favorites, and audiences look forward to these familiar faces each season.
—David Schwab is the managing director of Octagon First Call, a business that helps brands assess the value of celebrities for their upcoming marketing campaigns. Follow him at www.celebrityacquisition.com and @david_schwab.