The new development is an offshoot of NBC-owned Telemundo's efforts to be more relevant to its U.S. audience by producing all four of its hour-long nightly
|'La Prisionera' retains its dramatic mix of star-crossed lovers and wrongful imprisonment but now includes product placements by Verizon Wireless.
"novelas," as the dramas are called, here rather than relying on imported programs from Latin America. In the past, those imports were the staples of U.S. Spanish-language TV networks.
Now, the 20 hours of weekly novelas that air between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. are homegrown productions that offer content integration opportunities never before available.
For instance, the popular Spanish-language soap opera La Prisionera is the usual dramatic mix of star-crossed lovers, betrayal and wrongful imprisonment it always was except the plotline now includes demonstrations of call waiting and picture taking using Verizon Wireless cell phones.
Two of three product placements for Verizon Wireless have already aired. And during the last four weeks of La Prisionera in November, six more marketers will appear in the novela in some form of product placement, said Steve Mandala, Telemundo's executive vice president of sales.
"We're still in a very developmental stage of understanding how to use it best," he said.
Verizon Wireless was integrated into the novela in two scenes that aired in August and September. In one, a character uses caller ID as she waits for a call about her kidnapped father. In another, a woman gives an impromptu English lesson to a young man she has a crush on by showing him how to photograph a flower with her phone. For Verizon Wireless, it was a chance to show how the products are used.
"Spanish-dominant Hispanics aren't really comfortable with technology," said Linda Lane Gonzalez, CEO of Viva Partnership, a Miami-based Hispanic agency that buys media for Verizon Wireless. "We went through 10 or 12 scenarios [with Telemundo]."
In meetings with the network's marketing executives, Viva discussed do's and don'ts, she said. For instance, the phone shouldn't be used during the novela's abduction scene, or while the caller is driving a car, or in a bar. And the camera feature should be used in a well-lit area so the picture shows up. Viva nixed using the phone to take pictures of someone's boyfriend out with another girl, she said.
Telemundo was first introduced to produce placement in novelas during a short-lived arrangement with Brazil's TV giant Globo several years ago. The deal involved the production of Spanish-language versions of Globo's Portuguese-language Brazilian novelas, which are usually packed with product placements. A product placement for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest toothpaste appeared in Vale Todo, Telemundo's version of TV Globo's Vale Tudo, Mr. Mandala said. And Telemundo's Amor Descarado, which ended earlier this year, included other P&G brands and Nissan Motor America Corp., he said.
Telemundo has already used less integrated product placement in other kinds of programming. Wendy's sponsors "Dinner and a Movie With Wendy's, in which the hosts munch fast food as they introduce the late-night movie on weekends. And Century 21 did weekly segments called Camino a Casa ("The Path to a Home") in a branded mini-reality show on morning TV that followed a couple buying their first home with the help of a Century 21 representative. The Vidal Partnership negotiated both deals.
New genres also open up new opportunities. This month Telemundo began airing the first home improvement show on Spanish-language TV, called Asi Se Hace ("That's How You Do It") with product placement by Big Lots. Home Depot and Lowe's are believed to be negotiating with Telemundo to become part of home improvement shows.
"The biggest hurdle [with branded content] is being able to really guarantee the product will be incorporated, feel organic and get the guaranteed number of exposures," said Monica Gadsby, CEO of Tapestry, Publicis Groupe's multicultural media unit. "And it's a bit of a struggle to know how to price it. This is so new and ground breaking. We're so used to 30-second commercials." The high prices that branded content can command on popular English-language TV shows are way beyond the Hispanic market, she said. "I hope it works because I'd like to see more of it," she said.
Ms. Gonzalez said the Verizon Wireless product placement was "additional value" as part of a network buy on Telemundo.
Though he declined to be specific about prices for product placement, Mr. Mandala said, "We talk to the advertiser about the value." And the marketer must be a Telemundo advertiser, he added.
The creative part of product placement is more of a challenge than the pricing, he added. The writers and director don't go along with all the suggestions. Ms. Gonzalez, for instance, hoped that a novela character would mention that Verizon Wireless has the best wireless service. That didn't happen, she said. Another agency executive said that talks about a beer marketer having a presence in a bar featured in a novela and a car company having its cars prominently displayed didn't work out.
"Viewers are so involved with their favorite novela," Ms. Gadsby said. "If the villain were interacting with your product, it could be a bad thing. If the villain drinks Coke, you might not want to."