Realtor Phil Dunphy, a key character on ABC's award-winning comedy Modern Family, is the star of Arnold Worldwide's latest initiative for the National Association of Realtors.
Dunphy's pitchman status kicked off Wednesday night, in spots airing before and after the latest installment of the show, and during the episode itself, with the character name-checking the NAR code of ethics as a plot point.
"We have done only a handful of integrations because they tend to be intrusive and frankly make the show look like it's selling out," Christopher Lloyd, co-executive producer of Modern Family, told Adweek. "This was actually one of the easier ones we've done, since it lent itself to a joke. Phil is bemoaning his career choice as a Realtor, and it's his Realtor skills that ultimately save the day."
Lloyd said he wouldn't have approved the concept, "if it seemed like we were just wedging in a pro-Realtor's Association testimonial. We only agreed to do it when we thought of a way to actually use the distinction between what a (NAR-certified) Realtor is and what a real-estate agent is in a funny way."
Of course, brand integrations in prime-time programming are nothing new. Still, this particular implementation, initially proposed by Arnold sibling Havas Media, stands out because it promotes a professional organization as opposed to specific consumer goods. Plus, the concept of a extending the integration to include a series character in ads apart from his or her show is unusual.
"Phil Dunphy is a Realtor—he was written that way by the show's creators," which makes the integration seem natural, said Sean McBride, executive vice president, executive creative director at Arnold. "And the amazing character they've developed already embodies many of the attributes that are important in a Realtor: He's honest, he's helpful, he's sincere."
Dunphy's "silly charm" and penchant for self-deprecating humor provide "a really great way to demonstrate the competitive advantage a Realtor provides," said McBride. "Because, let's face it, buying a house can be pretty daunting. And the idea of doing it with someone like Phil by your side immediately makes it less scary."
In commercials for the NAR, Dunphy, portrayed by Ty Burrell, sits beside a fireplace, espousing real estate-themed "Phil's-osophies."
In one spot, he quietly considers the role silence can play during a negotiation.
In another ad, Dunphy has a ball, more or less, explaining that "navigating the real-estate world requires cat-like reflexes."
"We specifically need to speak to millennials who, our research suggests, increasingly believe they can handle buying a home on their own," said McBride. "Well, those of us who've actually bought a home know the process is rife with unexpected pitfalls. So, this integration provides us a way to reinforce the value of a Realtor to a captive audience, in a context that's relevant to them."
The "Phil's-osophies" approach, "allows us to get a little more specific about the ways a Realtor provides an advantage," he said. "And we'll be extending the campaign into social in the coming months, which is another great place to find our millennial audience."
Arnold's work eschews category staples such as sepia-toned property shots and smiling real estate agents, an approach NAR believes this will pay off over the long haul in targeting young adult homebuyers, said association senior vice president Stephanie Singer.
But NAR isn't the group hoping to realize a return on its investment.
"The broader use of the character Phil and his philosophies should serve both masters: as an advertisement for the National Association for Realtors, and as a promotion for the show," said Lloyd. "People see Phil and they remember to watch Modern Family—that's the gain for us."
Moving forward, "We have no plans for further NAR integrations," he said, "but we are eager to see how this one is received and certainly may consider more in the future."
Arnold's first work for the association bowed in February. Those spots portrayed the home-buying process as a wacky challenge game show in an effort to illustrate the advantage of working with Realtors:
Creative Agency: Arnold Worldwide
Jim Elliott, Global Chief Creative Officer
Sean McBride, EVP Exec Creative Director
Nate Donabed, VP Creative Director (art)
Josh Kahn, VP Creative Director (copy)
Liz Breen, Copywriter
Ashley Herrin, Art Director
Sean Vernaglia, Sr. Broadcast Producer
Jake Williams, Assistant Broadcast Producer
Kate Swanson, Broadcast Business Affairs Manager
Dayna Stanley, Art Producer
Kathy McMann, VP Director of Art Production
Diane Brito, VP Director of Print Production
Vicky Shaughnessy, Executive Print Producer
Brian Babineau, EVP Social & Content Systems
Lydia Leavitt, Dir Social & Content Systems
Cristin Barth, Mgr Social & Content Systems
Lisa Unsworth, Managing Partner, CMO
Michael Shonkoff, SVP Marketing Director
Debra Freeman, Marketing Director
Venetia Breene, Associate Marketing Manager
Andrew Butler, SVP Brand Planning Director
Derrin Andrade, Sr. Project Manager
Havas Media / Cake
Greg James, Chief Strategy Officer
Stacy Fuller – Head of Content, Havas Media NA
Jenna Fidellow – SVP General Manager, Cake
David Buklarewicz, SVP Group Account Director
Anya Slavin, Account Director
Phoebe Frank, Media Supervisor
Jason Kanefsky, EVP Strategic Investments
Cristina Ferruggiari VP Account Director
Chris Jones, SVP, Marketing & Communicatio
Jeffrey Weinstock: VP & Creative Director
Jessica Popper: Director, Integrated Marketing
Andy Staub: Coordinator
Production Company: Moving Parts
Production Company Executive Producer: Chad Cooperman
Production Company Line Producer: Jon Goldberg
Directors: Christopher Lloyd & Steve Levitan
Cinematographer: Jim Bogdonas
Editor: Brendan Murphy
Music: Tommy Fields
Photographer: Misha Gravenor
Photographer Producer: Megan Sluiter
Client: National Association of Realtors
Stephanie Singer, SVP Communications
David Greer, VP Consumer & Media Communications
Julie Fournier, Creative Director
Jessica Graeser, Lead Consumer Digital Marketing Manager
TJ Doyle, Director of Digital and Executive Communications
Sara Wiskerchen, Managing Director, Media Communications