NEW YORK Lonelygirl15 isn't so lonely anymore, now that the video series has begun shopping itself for product placements.
The creators of Lonelygirl15 have already linked up with Hershey's. In an episode of Lonelygirl15 due for release today, the show's main character, Bree, chews Hershey's Icebreakers Sours Gum, while visibly playing with the package in her hand. When fellow character Jonas asks for a piece, Bree demurs because she only has a few left, then pops one in her mouth and announces, "Whoa, it's sour."
Hershey's promotional agency, Omnicom Group's Tracy Locke, brokered the deal with Lonelygirl15's talent rep, Creative Artists Agency. Series co-creator Greg Goodfried said it is a step for the small production team behind Lonelygirl15 to transform the buzz surrounding its interactive series that first surfaced on YouTube last May into a sustainable business venture.
Brand integration makes more sense than standard Web video ads, said Goodfried. While the Icebreakers integration was a onetime placement, the creators are in talks with other brands to become regular fixtures in the series.
"We treat the characters like real people so they use real brands," he said.
The deal is the latest instance of an advertiser hooking up with Web video stars. Coke brokered a deal through YouTube that had popular YouTube video bloggers like LisaNova and Geriatric1927 contribute to a holiday promotion. Last week, Dewar's began a deal to be the sole sponsor of the last few episodes of Ze Frank's "The Show." And this week, DuPont released a series of product Webisodes featuring former Rocketboom host Amanda Congdon.
Lonelygirl15 has been running pay-per-click ads at the end of its videos, placed by video service Revver.
Goodfried said Lonelygirl15's creators expect to develop more revenue from its YouTube fan base.
"If YouTube is looking for a test case or a way to show the world they can survive without Viacom clips, I think Lonelygirl15 is it," he said.
The move to product placement is ironic for Lonelygirl15. When it entered the pop-culture consciousness last summer, ostensibly as a video blog by a home-schooled 16-year-old girl, some Internet theorists believed it was actually a product-placement front for Target, since her bedroom was filled with furniture from the retailer. One particularly dedicated Lonelygirl15 sleuth even tagged a screenshot of Bree's bedroom with the SKUs of the Target products. As it turned out, Lonelygirl15 was not the imagination of marketers but aspiring filmmakers, and the Target-heavy set was simply a reflection of budget constraints.
Lonelygirl15 has remained popular following its outing as a fictional series last August. The creators claim a combined 40 million views of the videos, which are updated several times per week. Lonelygirl15 videos continue to rank among the most popular on YouTube, claiming between 300,000 and 900,000 views per episode.
Episodes on Lonelygirl15.com attract hundreds of viewer comments, which the show's creators use to adjust plotlines.
"It's active versus passive viewing," Goodfried said. "Brands are going to realize that there's not a more passionate audience."