Overview: Forbes speaks with Hollywood Branded’s CEO, Stacy Jones, about the impact of Cinnabon’s product placement and promotional partnership with Breaking Bad TV spin off, Better Off Saul.
Cinnabon’s Employee of the Month: Saul Goodman
FORBES – MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT 3/09/2015
Millie Dent – Contributor
One would assume Cinnabon would feel cooked by Saul Goodman. On his show Better Call Saul (the spinoff and prequel of hit series Breaking Bad), the TV character is simply miserable working as a manager at Cinnabon, the 1,200-store baked-goods chain. But the company enthusiastically embraces Saul’s new job, even if he doesn’t.
Saul, played by actor Bob Odenkirk, foreshadowed his character’s career change — from a corrupt lawyer to a baker in a shopping mall — in the second-to-last episode of Breaking Bad,which aired about 18 months ago. In that episode, following his decision to enter protective custody, he said, “If I’m lucky, a month from now, best-case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.”
Turns out it was a best-case scenario for the privately-owned Cinnabon, which claims over $1 billion in annual revenues, more than it was for the spiritless Saul. The company was elated upon hearing about their role in the episode, which debuted on February 9th with 6.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings. (That reportedly makes it the highest-rated cable TV debut ever.)
“Our PR department jumped right on it and said, ‘Hey here’s an application! You can work for us anytime,’” says an elated Deborah Rowley, the company’s VP of New Market Operations. Immediately after the episode aired, Cinnabon’s flacks tweeted at Odenkirk the link to the company’s career page.
American Movie Classics (AMC), which airs Better Call Saul, reached out to Cinnabon over the summer to ask if it could film part of the show’s premiere at an actual franchise in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the TV show is shot.
Even though a gig at Cinnabon doesn’t come across in the show as a dream job for Saul, the company felt the product placement could only be a sweet thing for it. “We embraced it and made it positive and didn’t run from the opportunity,” says Rowley.
Echoes Stacy Jones, who runs an entertainment-marketing agency called Hollywood Branded: “This was taking the product into the viewer’s everyday lives,” she says. “It starts conversation and chatter. It’s not damaging. Sometimes product placement doesn’t need to be shined up and spiffy. This was a homerun.”
A product-placement study in Sweden in 2013 found that if products are associated with particular characters, “it may be tarnished if the character falls from grace.” Of course, given that Saul was never a boy scout, and viewers love him anyway, perhaps it won’t matter.
Actor Odenkirk, in an effort to get into character for his bakery manager job, spent a full day a month before filming the first episode learning new skills at the store—such as how to roll the dough and create the chocobons. He even wiped ovens, swept the floor, and cleaned tables.
Cinnabon’s Rowley says she offered Odenkirk a “hand double” for the dough-rolling scenes, but he refused. He wanted to do it himself. All of the dough seen in the first few minutes of the initial episode was Odenkirk’s handiwork.
Cinnabon publicized its role by having each of its over 700 franchises in the U.S. (the other stores are spread across 60 countries) give away a free mini-bon to anyone who walked through the doors during the day the first episode aired. If customers tweeted pictures of themselves at a Cinnabon location with the hashtag #SaulSelfie, they were also given a shot to win a year’s worth of treats.
Rowley, a devoted Breaking Bad fan, was starstruck. She was invited to play an extra in the scene, which she earnestly calls “the highlight of my career.”
Five episodes into the first season, Better Call Saul is garnering many positive reviews. Media Life’s Tom Conroy writes, “Fans of Breaking Bad will be pleased to hear that AMC’s new prequel to that show… is a Frasier.”
Cinnabon better hope Saul keeps his job as long as possible. (After all, the show is a prequel that focuses on Saul’s life before he became the unprincipled attorney in Breaking Bad.)
I tried to reach the moody baker, but his reps ignored my calls and emails. Perhaps they’re all too busy rolling in his dough.