Subliminal Marketing Mavericks

By Gregory S. Davis | February 14, 2009 AAA

Why spend the time catching "24", "Ugly Betty", "The Game" or "Top Chef" when you can use your TiVo (Nasdaq:TIVO) or DVR recorder from, let's say, Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) to record the show and catch up on it over the weekend? The convenience for viewers is a business problem for television advertisers. One method growing in popularity is product placement in popular programming. Let's take a look at a few shows and companies exercising their subliminal marketing capabilities.

Short List
According to the Tuned In Journal produced by Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and data from the Nielson Co., following is a sample list of publicly traded companies that engaged in product placement in 2008 and elicited a positive opinion of the brand.

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CVS Pharmacy
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" on ABC is a reality-TV show in which a deserving family is chosen to have its current home demolished and a new home constructed with extra design specifications to make life at home an absolute dream. CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS) is contracted to provide supplies and pay bills for the selected families. CVS Caremark is down 31% over the past 12 months ending February 13, but given its low 0.75 price/earnings to growth ratio, its expected three- to five-year earnings potential provides a strong signal for growth. (To learn more about the price/earnings to growth ratio, be sure to read PEG Ratio Nails Down Value Stocks.)

TRESemme by Alberto-Culver
"Project Runway" on Bravo is another reality-TV show in which aspiring fashion designers sew and stitch their way toward becoming crowned the show's new top fashionista. Alberto-Culver's (NYSE:ACV) TRESemme product line supplies prizes to the winners. Alberto-Culver's stock offers a low correlation to a broad market index like the S&P 500 given its low beta of 0.4. Although it is smaller in terms of revenues and market capitalization than other personal care product providers like Avon Products (NYSE:AVP) and Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL), its stock has outperformed both over the past 12 months through February 13.

Whole Foods Market
"Top Chef" is another popular Bravo reality-TV show in which chefs and cooking aficionados compete in a series of challenges and quick fires to become the show's champion. Contestants on multiple occasions are given a set amount of money and 30 minutes to comb through the aisles of Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq:WFMI) for their next culinary creation. Whole Foods stock has fallen 70% over the past 12 months. Although the company has decided not to release comparable same-store sales estimates for fiscal year 2009, citing the rapidly changing economic environment, Whole Foods is hoping the combination of advertising, new store openings at the end of 2008 and a recovery in economic conditions will continue to grow its business.

Final Thoughts
The downturn in the economy in the short term will make it difficult to determine how product-placement ads will translate into stock market performance. As an investor, the takeaway is to notice when the next product or service slides into your favorite show as a sign of advertisers changing with the times in hopes of boosting future revenues.

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