Lowdown On The Upfront: Scripps’s Off-Screen Strategy

You can’t taste or smell the food on Food Network, if you’re watching it on TV.

But you can, if you visit a TGI Friday’s restaurant.

Walk in to a TGIF on a Monday and you’ll get to look at a Food Network menu – and maybe taste the recipe of an aspiring chef such as Amparo Alam, a 51-year-old Wal-Mart bakery worker and full-time mom from Syracuse, Utah. Her dish: Peruvian Herb-Roasted Chicken

Alam’s recipe was chosen by judges in a six-week-long cook-off called the Ultimate Recipe Showdown, shown Sunday nights on Food Network

Alam got what senior vice president of advertising sales Karen Grinthal calls an Andy Warhol-pre-ordained “15 minutes of fame.” And Alam’s chance at “real fame and fortune.’’

But, for Food Network, it’s an example of the kind of “360-degree” marketing that Scripps Networks’ channels are trying to establish as a differentiator for the kind of everyday activities their programming is based on and which can draw the interest of advertisers, whose products hold every-day appeal to Americans.

In the case of Ultimate Recipe Showdown, the creator of each week’s winning entrée ends up with host Guy Fieri in the programs’ test kitchen, at the end of each show.

In effect, each episode drives viewers who want to taste what they saw to TGI Friday’s the next day. And, in the restaurants, non-viewers who get handed the Food Network menu or see Food Network advertised on tent tables, get driven back to their TV sets to check out its shows. Particularly, if they like what they ate.

All this is how Scripps tries to distinguish its “360-degree” partnerships from what other channels offer sponsors. With most “cross-platform” plays, an advertiser gets some kind of presence on two platforms: the TV screen and the computer screen.

With Scripps, getting a relationship to go 360 – creating a circular relationship for both the network and the sponsor – means getting the message to involve not just the TV and Internet, but retail locations, from stores to restaurants, to print to on-air talent.

That’s why Ingrid Hoffman, the host of Simply Delicioso on Food Network finds herself on 150 million bags of Tostito tortilla chips, from Frito-Lay. And doing recipes involving the chips on commercial breaks, within her show.

Or why the makers of Ethan Allen furniture finds themselves with three- to five-minute video clips in their stores that show how customers can outfit their living rooms or bedrooms with their products. The clips come from its agreement to furnish homes in HGTV's "Dream Home" giveaway

Or why a Dodge Grand Caravan is a central feature of the Garagemahal program on Scripps’ DIY Network. Grand Caravan is trying to push its storage features. So why not a show about a garage with a Caravan in it that has lots of storage of its own?

The aim is to create not just a “seamless” transition from the real world to a dream world, but, along the way, to keep viewers involved in a show, from beginning to end. To limit the viewers’ escape from or skipping past a sponsor’s message.

The latest example: Develop programming for the sponsors that gets shown in commercial breaks. Create stories that can be told in three one-minute vignettes. Sandwich a billboard and a commercial around each vignette. Show the story within a full-hour show. So you want to stick with the show – and the show within the show.

This has been tried before on Scripps’ GAC country music channel. And it launched a young star named Taylor Swift, two years ago.

Now, Trisha Yearwood, Amy Grant and a country group named Little Big Town will be involved. As will be a butter substitute, Country Crock. And the Food Netowrk.

“It’s a natural,’’ for the network, said Jon Steinlauf, senior vice president of advertising sales at Scripps Networks.

After all, by buying three-fourths of each break, you pretty much own the show.

You can even mingle with the talent.

Because the show’s star just might be part of your 360-degree program.

 For more coverage of advertising upfront selling season, click here.