We have a winner!

September 15, 2011

Two weeks ago, we put out the call. Tell us your worst ideas for a new reality TV show and the winner (or loser, as you might see it) wins a $250 Amazon gift card.

Our reasoning was simple. We think there’s a lot of PR potential in reality TV that isn’t readily apparent. Understanding reality TV, especially a new generation of working man shows that cover the blood and guts of American small and family business, offers one of the few opportunities left to place products and clients on episodic TV.

Many of these shows offer hybrid product placement opportunities whereby brands can gain credible exposure to middle America viewers. You can see it everywhere. Most obvious, for instance, are the commercial tie-ins and custom motorcycle builds on “Orange County Choppers.” More subtle yet are the restaurants that the Real Housewives dine in or the trucks and cars driven on HGTV’s home improvement shows.

Some, surprisingly, aren’t paid opportunities. For instance, a recent episode of “Flipping Out” featured a client’s female personal care product. And don’t underestimate the celebrity status gained by reality show stars. A recent event hosted by a Real Housewife of New Jersey attracted so many other housewives to a client’s store opening that the line ran a block long.

Our tongue-and-cheek call for submissions resulted in scores of new ideas — many of which were so off-color that we simply couldn’t publish them on Gregarious. And a number of them were simply hilarious. Feel free to read some of the submissions.

But of all the ideas, one stood out above the rest, according to our own reality TV maven Michelle Larkin, a Gregory FCA senior account representative who closely follows the genre.

We named her judge after she turned a number of Gregory FCA employees onto obscure reality TV shows, many of which we have connected with clients and their products. We thought it would be interesting to get Michelle’s read on what makes a compelling reality TV show before her naming the winner:

Gregarious: Michelle, why do think reality TV dominates so much TV programming right now?

Michelle Larkin: It capitalizes on one of the most fundamental elements of human nature, our basic instinct in seeing how others live their lives. Voyeurism is a powerful draw and reality TV shows lead us to believe we are seeing life as it unfolds, whether or not that is, in fact, true.

G: Can you help us classify the various genres of reality?

ML: Well, reality competition shows are now among the largest TV category and play to our competitive culture — it’s the analog of sports, where the final outcome is unknown. Next, you have what we call the working man’s shows. So little of episodic TV reflects the real nature of work. Through shows such as “Son of a Gun,” “Cake Boss,” and “Pawn Stars,” we get to see the real world of work, often complicated by relationships and family dynamics.

Then there are the gossip shows — The Real Housewives franchise, the “Bad Girls Club,” and “Jersey Shore” became source material for much media gossip coverage. Then you have the straight celebrity TV shows — “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” “Run’s House,” and “Hogan Knows Best.”

And of course, the home improvement category represents the entire programming strategy for networks such as HGTV and TLC. Finally, there’s the new category of psycho documentaries — shows such as “Hoarders” and “Intervention” that focus on the journey to recovery.

G: What opportunities do these shows provide for PR people?

ML: Well, certainly the people who appear on them often emerge as celebrities in their own right who can help publicize and promote a brand or event. The shows themselves provide ample product placement and tie-in opportunities that if managed well, can amplify the effectiveness of a campaign.

And finally, straight out sponsorship opportunities. For instance, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? is now seen in every episode of “Hoarders.” Now, that’s a paid buy. However, it also provides for supplemental public relations opportunities that smart marketers can capitalize on.

G: So with all that said, who won Gregory FCA’s Worst Reality TV Show Concept Contest?

ML: We had a lot of submissions, but the worst idea came from Hannah Messinger, a first-year associate at Gregory FCA and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Her concept, “Wawa: The Night Shift,” plays off a local inside joke. Here in southern Pennsylvania, Wawa is generally considered the best 24-hour convenience store chain on the face of the planet, and everyone has a deep affinity for its hoagies, coffee, iced tea, and frozen treats.

We all know nothing kosher goes on past 2 a.m., but what kind of hijinks go on at a Wawa in the wee hours of the morning? A reality show that captures disgruntled night shift workers on camera as they battle intoxicated college students, sleep-deprived truck drivers, and night owls all in search of the perfect late-night convenience store treat. We’ll be tuning in. Well done, Hannah!

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