The National Association of Realtors Finds Its Perfect Pitchman in Modern Family Dad

Integration explains why you need a real estate agent

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


@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.