NBC Pairs Up With MasterCard for Freshmen Series 'Life'

Network Pushes Strategy to Offer Marketers Alternative to 30-Second Spot

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NEW YORK -- Last May, NBC's ad sales chief, Mike Pilot, set the bar for the first commercial-ratings upfront when he announced at his network's presentation: "Bring us your ideas, and we'll work with you to make them happen. We're all about experimentation." Five months later, he already seems to be making good on that promise.
NBC is working with MasterCard for a 'podbusting' experiment on the network's new series 'Life.'
NBC is working with MasterCard for a 'podbusting' experiment on the network's new series 'Life.'

NBC kicked off its "Heroes" premiere week with a series of custom spots from Nissan's Rogue, the show's main sponsor, featuring multiple viewer giveaways sandwiched into regular commercial breaks. The following week, Allstate teamed up with "Friday Night Lights" for a series of interstitials promoting safe driving. And starting Oct. 3, MasterCard became the first marketer to experiment with "podbusting" on NBC, using extra content from the freshman series "Life" and teasing it throughout the commercial breaks to increase engagement. The spots, called "Uncovering Evidence of Life," premiered on the show's second episode and will continue through the Nov. 7 show.

Increasing engagement
An NBC spokesperson said of the latest partnerships: "We're completely open to exploring new ideas in ways to increase viewer engagement in ways that extend beyond the traditional 30-second spot."

Michael Lao, VP-media for MasterCard Worldwide, said discussions with NBC began early in the development phases for "Life" back in March. Early ratings for the show have been "very encouraging," he said. The numbers are "exactly where we thought they'd be. It has a great back story and just needs a little time to build."

Although the premiere won its time slot, the second episode lost 20% of its initial audience and fell to third place behind ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" and CBS's "CSI: NY." Regardless, NBC has already issued a full-season order for the show.

"We're very happy with the support and confidence NBC has in the program," Mr. Lao said.

Important to ad category
As branded entertainment becomes of increased importance to the financial-services category -- Visa, American Express and Chase have all been ramping up their efforts -- so has the need for innovation. MasterCard also teamed up with Fox for a series of mobile applications for "Bones" last winter, and also did a similar podbusting experiment with VH1 earlier this year. They're also one of several credit-card companies to pair with TNT for an original mini-movie to tie into the network's drama theme. "Late," co-produced with its media agency GSD&M, aired during the premiere of "The Runaway Jury" in August 2006.

MasterCard and NBC are working with IAG on engagement numbers for the "Life" promotion. But Mr. Lao will have to wait to see the results of the "Life" partnership under Nielsen's commercial ratings, which take four to five weeks to process.

"I'd rather early on we take the time to get this right, but I have every confidence in the world that the process will speed up as we become more familiar with the numbers," he said. "But we are very excited to see what we're doing with 'Life' and do want that instant gratification."
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