New York Times ad critic Stuart (Stockholm Syndrome) Elliott gave yet another pass to a stealth marketing campaign, this time in Tuesday’s edition of the paper.

A Soft Sell for Air Fresheners, With Joan Rivers in Reality Show Spoofs

CAN a frank, bawdy comedian and her equally outspoken daughter find happiness selling air fresheners? And can a maker of air fresheners find happiness with such seemingly unlikely pitchwomen? When the product-peddling aspects of the advertising can be soft-pedaled — as now occurs increasingly on Madison Avenue, in a trend known as content marketing — the answer may be “yes.”

The comedian is Joan Rivers, who, with her daughter, Melissa Rivers, are to appear in a series of humorous online video clips that promote the Renuzit line of air fresheners sold by Henkel. The seven planned episodes of the Web series will spoof “The Bachelorette” and other romance-centric reality competition shows on television by presenting 18 hunky young men competing for a chance to date Joan Rivers, who is advised during her “journey” — the Web series mockingly appropriates the trappings of its target — by her daughter.

Renuzit spent $1.5 million on the seven-webisode series (there’s supposed to be a teaser clip here, but it doesn’t seem to load), which will debut next week and unfold throughout the month.

According to Jeff Huffman, director for air care marketing and innovation at the Henkel Consumer Goods unit of Henkel in Scottsdale, Ariz., “[Rivers] overindexes against our air-care target,” which, Elliott explains, “means that the consumers at whom Henkel aims Renuzit ads watch episodes of TV series like ‘Fashion Police’ and ‘Joan Knows Best’ more than the general population.”

The Rivers gals, for their part, have no problem with these ads in sheep’s clothing.

Joan Rivers also praised how, with content marketing, the sponsor is “not slapping you over the head” with a sales spiel. Her daughter echoed her, saying: “It’s branded content, but the operative word is ‘content.’ That makes it more fun.”

But also, you know, more sneaky.



John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
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