Keeping It Real: Reality Shows and Stars Maintain High Profile through Licensing

Marketing to Women: Addressing Women and Women's Sensibilities, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Keeping It Real: Reality Shows and Stars Maintain High Profile through Licensing


Licensees used to shy away from living celebrities as too risky and potentially controversial. Times have certainly changed.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the plethora of reality shows and stars--mostly women--being licensed. These celebrity-driven properties can still be a challenge. On the other hand, some reality franchises have demonstrated on-air longevity and have been licensed for years, as well. And, in many instances, the shows' controversial nature is exactly what keeps the audience, and consumers, coming back for more.

Brett Freeman of Celebrity Brand Licensing represents Teresa Giudice, a star of Bravo's Real Housewives of New Jersey. "She's kind of controversial on the show, but that's what made her the star," he says. "And her much-publicized financial woes are part of why people identify with her."

"Any time you have human beings, you definitely can't control them," notes Joy Tashjian of Joy Tashjian Marketing Group, which represents several reality shows on behalf of Comcast networks, including Top Chef, The Biggest Loser and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The Kardashi-an family, she says, is controversial on-screen, but "there's a certain comfort level with them. Unlike a lot of celebrities, they share a very deep concern and responsibility to make sure their business is well-maintained."

Although individual reality licensing programs are unique, all share some common traits:

Timing. "Producers do themselves a disservice by trying to license too early," explains Tashjian. "It takes a long period of time for consumers to find the show, become passionate about it, and feel the need to consume product."

Another wrinkle is that reality shows often run in short flights with gaps in between. A series could have an eight-episode season, then disappear and re-emerge a year later. "That doesn't work for licensing," Tashjian notes.

Brand vs. celebrity. Some properties are licensed as brand programs, with minimal cast involvement. CBS's America's Next Top Model (ANTM), which has an exclusive direct-to-retail apparel and accessories deal with Walmart, among other initiatives, is licensed without the participation of host Tyra Banks or the contestants, for example. Similarly, NBC's The Biggest Loser is a branded program focusing on health, wellness and weight loss products and services, not on the host, trainers or participants.

In certain cases, the celebrity is the brand. Both the Kardashian family, which has deals with Jupi Corp., Sears and others, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians are licensed. "Whatever they do is separate and apart from what we do," says Tashjian. "But they're one in the same to some degree."

Several reality show celebrities have launched licensing programs unconnected with their shows. Jenni "JWOWW" Farley and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi of Jersey Shore (as well as their male costar Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino) all have individual licensing efforts, as do several cast members of Real Housewives, including Giudice and Caroline Manzo of the New Jersey edition and Bethenny Frankel of New York (and other reality shows).

Complementary programs. The parallel but separate licensing activities of shows and their stars create a situation where the two need to avoid cannibalizing each other, as well as prevent market oversaturation.

For Keeping Up with the Kardashians, "Our job is to explore smaller channels of distribution that will support what the Kardashians are doing," Tashjian explains. "Our goal is to reach that aspirational viewer who wants to be like the Kardashian ladies and wants to explore the fashion, but on a more restricted budget." The Kardashians' products, for the most part, are higher-end and for teens and up, while the Keeping Up with the Kardashians skews toward tweens, with products more age-appropriate and lower-priced. …

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