'Top Chef' Sponsors: Bleach, SUVs, Cell Phones and Beer

Bravo unveiled their big sponsors for the new season of Top Chef, set to debut March 12, and there are some interesting choices. On Top Chef, more so than on other programs, sponsors are integrated into the show itself, usually in the form of challenges, or forcing the chef to use their appliances, etc…

Knowing that made me a bit queasy when I saw that this year they included Clorox, Toyota and Verizon, as well as Michelob (the only one that seems a natural fit, even though their beer is, how can I put it, sub-par).

How, after all, can you fit bleach into a cooking show? Have a segment featuring the chef’s cleaning up after themselves? That would be riveting.

 In fact, it turns out the Clorox Company owns Kingsford (charcoal), Hidden Valley (Ranch Dressing) and KC Masterpiece (BBQ sauce), so expect those brands to be making a number of appearances on the upcoming season.

In addition, Clorox is launching a Web site, mealstogether.com, which will feature exclusive Top Chef Web content, and will include Top Chef branding on its supermarket packaging, so you can use Hidden Valley salad dressing, just like the people on TV!!!

Toyota will provide Highlanders (big SUVs) to drive the contestants around Chicago, because apparently when traveling in the city large trucks are preferable to eco-friendly rides. However, the winner of this season will get… a Toyota Corolla, possibly the cheapest car ever given away on a reality show.

Verizon will have boatloads of mobile content on its V-Cast service, and will sponsor the always popular Top Chef blogs on BravoTV.com—with one bombastic exception.—Michelob will sponsor Anthony Bourdain’s Top Chef blog, as well as the “fan favorite” competition.

Glad will also be returning as the sponsor of the $100,000 prize, so expect to see their plastic bags everywhere, and Food & Wine Magazine will remain a sponsor, allowing Gail Simmons to return as judge and giving the winner a cover spread.

Say what you will about the brand integration (a Corolla, really?) but it works. People remember the brands they see on Top Chef, which is why sponsors are willing to leap at the opportunity to advertise there.

"We have generated results for our sponsor partners in past seasons – commercial recall; positive brand recall; brand likeability and intent to purchase,” said Susan Malfa, VP of ad sales for Bravo. “We will continue to deliver those powerful results and explore new media and consumer interactivity via new technology and share those learnings with our sponsors who come to us for our innovation."

Top Chef: Chicago will debut on Bravo March 12 at 10 p.m. Come for the food, stay for the branding.