Reebok will segue next month from shoe business to show business, teaming with the IFC cable network for a celebrity interview series that is being produced by a new entertainment arm of the Canton maker of athletic shoes.
The series, "Framed," is scheduled to begin Dec. 14 on IFC. Three episodes are to appear by the end of the year, with three more planned for early 2008. All six episodes are to be made available next year on the on-demand services of various cable systems.
The other partners in "Framed," in addition to Reebok Entertainment, are Carat Entertainment, a unit of the media agency Carat, part of the Aegis Group, and Roadside Entertainment, an independent production company in New York that works with ESPN, HBO, and Major League Baseball.
In creating "Framed," Reebok, a unit of Adidas, joins a lengthening list of marketers that are branching into what is known as branded entertainment - programming that sells in ways meant to be more subtle than the typical TV commercial.
The tactic, evocative of the sponsored shows that ran during the so-called golden ages of radio and television, is being embraced by brands like Axe, Jack Daniel's, Fireman's Fund, Grey Goose, Krups, Match.com, Meow Mix, Stolichnaya, Sunsilk, and Toyota.
Branded entertainment is intended to make the presence of marketers "zap-proof" - that is, less likely to be fast-forwarded through - by embedding their products and brands in the plots of shows.
"With the whole landscape of media changing, campaigns are not the only way to reach people," said Todd Krinsky, vice president for sports and entertainment marketing at Reebok.
The preference is increasingly for "original content that entertains the consumer," Krinsky added, "and is also a vehicle to communicate our brand values."
The six episodes, each 30 minutes long, will feature athletes who endorse Reebok footwear and apparel, interviewed by celebrities in fields like music and movies. The celebrities will also direct the episodes in which they appear.
For instance, basketball player Allen Iverson will be interviewed by singer Nelly. Actress Paz Vega will interview soccer player Thierry Henry. And baseball player David Ortiz will be interviewed by comedian Carlos Mencia.
Krinsky declined to discuss what Reebok is spending to produce "Framed" and place the series on IFC other than to say the company treated it "as we would any other important television advertising campaign from an energy- and resources-investment perspective."