To bur­nish im­age, Wal-Mart, P&G take pro­ducer’s role

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By David Bauder

NEW YORK — If you watch NBC’s “The Jensen Project” to­day, you prob­a­bly won’t re­al­ize how much the sci­ence fic­tion movie owes to tooth­paste and di­a­pers.

The sci­ence fic­tion movie is part of a broader nar­ra­tive be­ing writ­ten by the world’s largest re­tailer and the world’s largest con­sumer prod­ucts com­pany. It is pro­duced and bankrolled by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the Proc­ter & Gam­ble Co. as the sec­ond of what the com­pa­nies hope is a long-run­ning se­ries of fam­ily-friendly pro­grams they will bring to tele­vi­sion.

“The Jensen Project” fea­tures Le­Var Bur­ton of “Roots” and “Read­ing Rain­bow” with Pa­tri­cia Richardson of “Home Im­prove­ment.” The “project” is a se­cret com­mu­nity of ge­niuses formed to solve some of the world’s prob­lems, and they must fight to keep a new technology from fall­ing into evil hands.

The com­pa­nies con­sider it an ideal movie — with­out bad lan­guage or ques­tion­able con­tent — for par­ents to watch with their chil­dren, mak­ing it ma­te­rial that com­pany ex­ec­u­tives say isn’t of­ten avail­able.

“We’re try­ing to in­crease the sup­ply,” said Stephen Quinn, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer at Wal-Mart. “Our be­lief was that the de­mand was there, but the sup­ply was short.”

Their first project, the movie “Se­crets of the Moun­tain,” aired on NBC in April and was seen by an au­di­ence of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple. It was sub­se­quently pack­aged by Wal-Mart to sell in its stores as a DVD and has sold more copies than any

other tele­vi­sion movie in the re­tailer’s stores, Quinn said. “The Jensen Project” will get sim­i­lar treat­ment.

The com­pa­nies say their own re­search shows their cus­tomers want more fam­ily-ori­ented ma­te­rial. What is more im­por­tant is that con­sumers have a more fa­vor­able view of their prod­ucts, and a stronger in­cli­na­tion to buy them, if ad­ver­tise­ments are as­so­ci­ated with fam­ily-friendly ma­te­rial.

The shows also counter an op­pos­ing trend: Some con­sumers no­tice if a com­pany’s ads are seen in racy pro­gram­ming, and ad­ver­tis­ers are of­ten tar­geted when boy­cott cam­paigns are started.

“You’ve heard of be­ing judged by the com­pany you keep?” asked Marc Pritchard, global mar­ket­ing and brand­build­ing of­fi­cer at Proc­ter & Gam­ble, which makes prod­ucts such as Tide laun­dry de­ter­gent, Crest tooth­paste and Pam­pers dis­pos­able di­a­pers. “We’re judged by the com­pany we keep.”

The com­pa­nies say they’re not try­ing to use their mus­cle to force out more adult-ori­ented fare. In­stead, they want more al­ter­na­tives for their brands. Wal-Mart says it has re­cently started ad­ver­tis­ing more on the Hall­mark Chan­nel, known for its fam­ily movies and re­runs of such se­ries as “Lit­tle House on the Prairie.” Proc­ter & Gam­ble tra­di­tion­ally buys more tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing than any other sin­gle com­pany.

For NBC, a fam­ily movie on a sum­mer Fri­day night is a risk-free move — par­tic­u­larly when the pro­duc­ers paid for mak­ing it and have guar­an­teed that the net­work will not lose money by air­ing it.

Wal-Mart and Proc­ter & Gam­ble have started the Al­liance for Fam­ily En­ter­tain­ment with about 40 prom­i­nent ad­ver­tis­ers, in­clud­ing Has­bro, Gen­eral Mills and Pepsi-Cola. They have one other movie, “A Walk in My Shoes,” that will be ready to air this fall.

The al­liance is also look­ing to pro­duce se­ries and is work­ing with MTV on a show, “Pe­dro & Maria,” to be­gin this fall, Pritchard said. They would like to en­ter the grow­ing Span­ish-lan­guage mar­ket, too.

The al­liance is an out­growth of the 1990s-era Fam­ily Friendly Pro­gram­ming Fo­rum, in which ad­ver­tis­ers paid seed money to de­velop scripts for fam­ily-friendly pro­gram­ming. “Gilmore Girls” was its most prom­i­nent suc­cess.

“We’re look­ing to im­prove the pro­gram­ming in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways,” Quinn said.

‘Se­crets of the Moun­tain’ The first movie pro­duced un­der the part­ner­ship has sold well in Wal-Mart stores.

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