NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Do commercial breaks need more character? Judging by the number of TV outlets that in recent years have allowed actors from popular series to appear in ads as the people they play each week, the answer is a resounding yes. One network, however, is taking a slightly different view.
Last night, CBS populated the ad breaks surrounding its Monday-night comedies not with someone from "Two and a Half Men" or "Worst Week" but rather someone familiar from the recent past: actor Kevin James.
Mr. James appeared on CBS from 1998 to 2007 in the lead role on the sitcom "King of Queens." He returned to the Tiffany Network on Monday in promos for his new Columbia Pictures film "Paul Blart, Mall Cop." The promos surrounded such Monday-night comedy fare as "Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother," and Mr. James humorously pretended he was revisiting CBS after months of being away.
In the past few years, TV networks and advertisers have tested the use of actors from shows consumers are watching in the commercials that interrupt those programs. The idea is that people armed with DVRs will be less interested in skipping ads willy-nilly when the people they tuned in to see in the first place are the ones cavorting about in the advertising.
Tweaking the strategy
At CBS, however, executives say the strategy needs to be tweaked. "When you use characters on the programs that either step out of the program or become themselves, as actors, that gets pretty dicey," said Linda Rene, senior VP-prime-time sales and innovations at CBS. "We tend to not really do that."
Instead, the network has been making use of personalities familiar to viewers but not from the TV shows they are watching at the moment the ads appear. CBS recently allowed Lara Spencer, one of the hosts of entertainment-news program "The Insider," to appear in Monday-night promotional segments for Unilever's Bertolli pasta, cooking up a dish while discussing some of the network's comedies that run that evening.
The practice of using actors and actresses familiar to viewers gained traction in Japan in recent years. Characters on TV there have been spotted doing things both in and out of their programs designed to promote advertiser wares. Media outlets are still testing concepts in the U.S. NBC Universal's USA cable channel, for example, is running what it calls a 30-second "custom vignette" in January featuring two characters from its drama "Psych" diving for cover behind a Kia Optima, tricking a gunman into setting off its alarm and fantasizing about driving in it.
Not so obvious
But several networks are trying things that may not be so obvious. The CW ran ads in late 2007 for the 20th Century Fox movie "27 Dresses" that used a narrator with a voice very similar to that of actress Kristen Bell, who relays the action in the network's flagship, "Gossip Girl." Needless to say, the ads ran during the buzzy program, and viewers who weren't paying close attention to when the show stopped and the ads began might not have caught on to the fact that the program had ended for at least a few seconds.
The use of popular TV faces to promote goods in new ways comes as all categories of advertisers struggle to come up with methods that foil the consumer behavior that comes with owning a DVR. In recent weeks, both Summit Entertainment's film "Twilight" and Screen Gems' "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" have run TV ads that show a trailer bordered by the movie's logo.
Even if one were to speed past it, the logo remains static on screen for some time. To promote "Marley & Me," a film about a nettlesome canine, 20th Century Fox partnered with Purina to make dog-food ads that showed the movie's logo at the start and finish of the 30-second appeal.