Brands Tackle Spike TV

The aspiring pro-football players in the new series 4th and Long—debuting this week on Spike TV—will hit the field in Reebok jerseys, recharge with EAS Myoplex energy drinks and shovel in a crate’s worth of Popeyes chicken. After a day of hitting the turf, they might even crack open a Miller Lite or two.

These are the brands that will surround the 12 contestants who’ll compete, elimination-style, over the course of the 10-episode show for a chance to play with the Dallas Cowboys, courtesy of lightning-fast deals put together by the MTV Networks Entertainment Group. The division, which oversees brand integrations for Spike, Comedy Central, TV Land and CMT, has become a prolific matchmaker of brands and entertainment properties, having dropped Doritos into The Colbert Report to placing Procter & Gamble’s Gillette in Spike’s two-minute game show, 120 Live.

While arrangements with blue-chip brands can be painstaking and complicated, executives at the group have managed to cut the turnaround time between kicking off talks with advertisers to embedding the products in the shows. Though the speed record is still the Doritos/Colbert deal (48 hours from ink to show), the 4th and Long pact was a sprint to the end zone. It took only about four weeks from the show’s getting its green light to the start of shooting—on location at the famed Cotton Bowl—with the brands in place.

The quick-drying ink is a sign of the times, according to the division’s executive-vp sales Jeff Lucas, who said that marketers are lunging for prominent placements in male-skewing shows, and are willing to jump on the right opportunity with little advance notice.

“More people know what it takes now to create a good brand integration—they’re much more sophisticated than even a few years ago, and they know the right questions to ask,” Lucas said. “They certainly understand the value.”

While a brand as big Reebok may seem more likely to pursue higher-profile marketing matches, it picks integrations that keep it top-of-mind with sports fans in an extremely competitive category. Execs also liked 4th and Long for its underdog quality, “where we’re part of giving someone a chance he wouldn’t have had otherwise,” a  Reebok rep said.

On the sales side, Spike was under the gun with 4th and Long because the series had to be in the can before the NFL pre-season. The squeeze was on the ad sales group when, already scouting for potential ad partners, the show got its go-ahead in February. The four integration deals were done before shooting began in March.

The result: The 12 amateur contestants (six defensive backs and six wide-receivers) and show host Hall of Famer Michael Irvin will all be sporting Reebok apparel and gear.

The advertisers will play a role on screen as well as off, with Popeyes creating a fan interaction segment dubbed, “You make the call.” Viewers can go online to agree or disagree with Irvin and the coaching staff’s decision to cut a player. Miller Lite, also a longtime football sponsor, has developed a branded segment called “Moments of Greatness,” that will capture outstanding plays and other highlights. “Moments” will likely be used on Spike’s Web site, as interstitials on the network and elsewhere, extending the exposure for both partners and highlighting the value of custom content bits.

Sponsor signage will appear on the playing field and on co-branded promotions and ads across a variety of media. Multimillion-dollar marketing for the show, including video walls in Times Square and ads in MLB and NBA arenas, has been on par with the biggest new show launches on Spike in recent years.