As head of Hispanic ad agency Publicidad Arismendi, Eva Rodriguez won General Motors' Buick account and created the car brand's first Spanish-language commercial, which ran on Univision last week. But Eva isn't real. She's the heroine of Univision's 8 p.m. telenovela "Eva Luna," and part of her role is to take the product integration common in novelas to a new level.
In typical novela fashion, Eva starts out as a humble but beautiful apple-picker in Southern California and finds success and riches after falling in love with a man -- Arismendi's creative director, Daniel Villanueva -- and being mentored by the agency's founder, Julio Arismendi as she nurses him through a long illness. Eva rises to the top of the agency through a combination of hard work, her love of advertising, and the tutelage of Julio, who also leaves her a majority stake in the Los Angeles-based Hispanic ad agency after he fakes his own death when his evil wife Marcela poisons him.
For General Motors, the relationship with Univision and the "Eva Luna" novela goes way beyond traditional product integration, although there is plenty of that as different characters zip around in Chevy Cruzes and Traverses. In addition, Buick sponsors, among other things, the online replays of "Eva Luna" episodes on Univision's novela site.
Not only is the novela set in an ad agency, the plot includes the fictional Publicidad Arismendi's quest for the Buick account, Eva's successful pitch for the business, and the shooting of the real commercial, essentially relaunching Buick in the U.S. Hispanic market with the brand's first Spanish-language spot.
"We knew Buick didn't have any commercial creative so integrating the car into the storyline wasn't going to be enough," said Lia Silkworth, senior VP-media director at Tapestry, part of Starcom MediaVest Group.
General Motors' media deal with Univision built in the cost of producing the commercial, and the filming of the spot was done at the same time as the scene of Eva directing the commercial. During the two-day shoot at an upscale Miami shopping mall, the "Eva Luna" cast and crew spent about an hour filming Eva, dressed in a white trenchcoat and very high heels, hopping behind cameras, scrutinizing storyboards and giving directions.
Behind the scenes, the spot was actually created by Buick's real Hispanic agency, Lapiz. Earlier, Lapiz worked closely with Univision, its writers, and General Motors, passing on new strategy as the real Buick client approved it, and coaching the characters.
"When Eva pitches the account to the Buick client in the novela, the same essence of the relaunch was there," said Lapiz Creative Director Eduardo Tua. "The new positioning is a more human kind of luxury. Our interpretation is not luxury for the rich, it's luxury that enriches."
When Eva and Daniel have a confrontation over pitch strategy, Eva's human-luxury approach wins out over Daniel's focus on car images. Lapiz even provided materials that were really presented to Buick but didn't make the final cut, to serve as storyboards and other images in the novela to make the fake agency seem more real.
"It was uncharted territory," said Mr. Tua.
Univision usually imports its highest-rated shows, like prime-time novelas, from Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa. "Eva Luna" is the first prime-time novela to be developed by Univision Studios, set up last year by Univision and giving the company control over the novela from the beginning. The nightly novela, which will end in mid-April, often draws between 4.7 million and 5.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen Co. ratings .
As Eva shoots the Buick spot, Debora, the mother who abandoned Eva as a child, discovers that Marcela earlier killed Daniel's parents, her partners in the Arismendi ad agency, because they wanted to sell their shares and leave the agency business. Marcela also poisoned her husband Julio, and doesn't know he faked his own death until he returns to seek justice for everyone before the novela ends.
GM wouldn't normally hire an ad agency connected to a serial killer like Marcela, with a creative director who is out on bail after being framed for manslaughter. (Eva's father Ismael was run over by Daniel's Ferrari but the car was really driven by Marcela's gambling, womanizing son Leonardo, who Eva is about to marry because she believes the love of her life and father of her baby Pablito killed her father.) But life is different in novela land.
"General Motors wants to be sure they're getting involved with the right character," said David Lawenda, Univision's president-advertising sales and marketing. "Eva struggles to prove herself as the agency head. It's a story of triumph."
The finished spot aired March 23 during a commercial break in the novela. In the commercial, a young couple driving their snazzy Buick Regal around the Rodeo Drive-like shopping area observe snooty rich people who won't even see the car because their noses are in the air, leading to the tagline "Not luxury for the rich, but luxury that enriches."
"The campaign runs and is hugely successful [in the novela]," Mr. Lawenda said. In real life, the spot will air on Univision and its second channel, Telefutura, and cable network Galavision. In the novela, Buick execs are so pleased that they send Eva her own Buick Regal car as a thank-you present.
"That was written into the script and we got a big kick out of it," said Ms. Silkworth, who has worked on the General Motors business for 10 years. "We've never been gifted cars."
Now the Buick will become Eva's primary car, replacing a Chevy Cruze. "In the story arc, it's a validation of her hard work and that she's made it, and the car becomes her trophy," she said.
Branded content sought for U.S., Mexican markets
Advertisers who are active in both the U.S. Hispanic market and Mexico are starting to hear a new pitch from Univision Communications: Think about branded content and product integrations that can run in both countries.
After years of feuding and lawsuits, Univision and Mexico's Grupo Televisa renegotiated a long-term programming agreement late last year, when Televisa also invested $1.2 billion in the U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster. Before that, Univision could air Televisa shows in the U.S. but had no rights to use the content online or in product integrations.
Now marketers with a pan-regional budget will be wooed to consider doing integrations in Televisa's Mexican-produced shows that will air in both the U.S. and Mexico. With the growing cooperation between Univision and Televisa, it would also be possible to include product integration just for the U.S. in programs produced in Mexico.
David Lawenda, Univision's president for advertising sales and marketing, said Univision has just hired someone in Mexico to be at meetings for new Televisa shows, and said he's been to Mexico three times in the past few months to meet with Televisa sales and marketing teams.
"When they greenlight a novela, we're at the original production meeting, to talk about script development and opportunities to integrate marketers," he said. "We now have a seat at that table."
He said Univision has already invited several multinational clients to Mexico for brainstorming meetings "to talk about what's possible."
-- Laurel Wentz