30 October 2014

The New York Times

FOR several years, Madison Avenue has been accelerating efforts to honor veterans of the United States military and help service members who have struggled since returning home.

For this Veterans Day, the media giant Scripps Networks Interactive is preparing an hourlong special — centered on the celebration of the Hawaiian homecoming of a wounded serviceman — that is to run on all six of its cable channels and be sponsored by major marketers like ConAgra Foods, Liberty Mutual Insurance and Union Pacific.

The special, “A Hero’s Welcome,” is the first program, Scripps Networks Interactive executives say, that they have scheduled to appear on all their channels: the Cooking Channel, the DIY Network, the Food Network, Great American Country, HGTV and the Travel Channel. The special will run first on the Food Network, at 9 p.m. Eastern time on Nov. 11; repeat an hour later, on the Cooking Channel and Great American Country; and run on the remaining three channels at 11 p.m. Eastern time.

A promotional trailer for “A Hero’s Welcome,” which is on YouTube and will begin showing on the six channels on Monday, starts with an announcer proclaiming, “This Veterans Day, join Robert Irvine, Genevieve Gorder and a few special guests as they surprise our service members at home and overseas.” The references are to Mr. Irvine, a chef who is the host of “Restaurant: Impossible” on the Food Network; Ms. Gorder, an interior designer who is the host of “Dear Genevieve” on HGTV; and guests like the actor Gary Sinise, known for his work for and with veterans and as the voice-over narrator of commercials for the Army.

There is a glimpse during the trailer of a scene from the special in which members of the military are served food bearing logos of a ConAgra brand, Marie Callender’s, that became the presenting sponsor of “A Hero’s Welcome” as part of a cause-marketing initiative, the Comforts From Home Project, which benefits the U.S.O. and the USO2GO program. The trailer concludes with the announcer inviting viewers to watch the special and promoting Marie Callender’s, described as “helping to bring the comforts from home to our troops.”

A public service announcement on the six channels, in which Ms. Gorder and Mr. Irvine ask viewers to donate to the U.S.O., is scheduled to start on Nov. 10. There will also be content on the websites of the channels, customized commercials during “A Hero’s Welcome” and special ads for Marie Callender’s in the November issues of Food Network Magazine and HGTV Magazine, which are published by a joint venture of Scripps Networks Interactive and the Hearst Magazines division of the Hearst Corporation.

Mr. Irvine, who has “years of involvement with veterans,” believed “it might make a good special for Veterans Day night,” said Jon Steinlauf, executive vice president for ad sales and marketing of Scripps Networks Interactive. “And Robert also has a relationship with Gary Sinise, whose involvement with veterans dates to his playing Lieutenant Dan in ‘Forrest Gump.’ ”

Although Mr. Steinlauf declined to discuss the financing of the special, he said that because of filming in Hawaii and at a military base in Germany “it did not have a normal production budget; the expense is among the highest of any we’ve done as a company.”

The idea for the special originated with ConAgra’s media agency, Spark, which sent requests for proposals to “quite a few of our media partners,” said John Muszynski, chief investment officer of Spark, part of the Starcom MediaVest Group division of the Publicis Groupe. “Scripps really impressed us with the organic nature of how they treated our idea. And Scripps was able to do a very nice job of integrating across networks and making it feel like it belonged on all of them.”

The proposed special also “fit for ConAgra and fit for the Marie Callender’s brand,” Mr. Muszynski said. “It was very natural, and it didn’t seem forced.”

“To get to a point where it doesn’t feel forced is a tough task, but I believe that to truly engage with the viewer, you have to have it flow naturally,” he added. How well or poorly brands are incorporated into shows that they sponsor is a crucial issue in the development of the type of programming known as branded content, content marketing or branded entertainment.

“There’s strong synergy between what Scripps stands for and what our brand stands for,” said Casey Richards, brand director for Marie Callender’s at ConAgra, which is “to help people savor the comforts of home.”

The Comforts From Home Project “supports those folks who are most in need of the comforts of home,” he added, “and the USO2Go program brings huge care packages to troops in the most remote locations.” ConAgra has pledged to donate a minimum of $100,000 and a maximum of $250,000 to USO2GO, based on the number of consumers who enter a code online from special packages of Marie Callender’s meals or desserts.

“We loved working with Scripps,” Mr. Richards said, “and have high hopes of continuing this with them next year.”

Among other Veterans Day initiatives in the realms of advertising, marketing and media are a special on Nov. 11, “MTV’s Got Your 6,” on MTV; a cover article about female veterans, featuring Michelle Obama, in the November issue of Redbook; an offer from Great Clips of free haircuts for veterans; the 14th annual Military Appreciation Monday dinner, at Golden Corral, scheduled for Nov. 17; and promotion of the 2014 Veterans Day parade in Birmingham, Ala., by an agency there, Big Communications.

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