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