NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In some circles, this would be tantamount to war: To promote its flagship morning show, "Good Morning America," ABC has bought ads in rival early-bird programming, including CNN's "American Morning." That's right, when John Roberts cuts to a commercial break, you might see an ad telling you to consider changing the channel to watch Diane Sawyer instead.
"You can imagine the direct competitors, the MSNBCs and the CNBCs, weren't going to accept a national spot from ABC News," said Alan Ives, executive producer and creative director at ABC News. So ABC made purchases through local cable operators in the top 10 national markets, allowing its "GMA" ads to run between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. on a range of cable-news channels. "I'm not sure I would be thrilled to see running in my daypart the competition, but that said, it's running in local cable time, and I think there isn't a network or show out there that isn't a strong program."
ABC's "GMA" campaign marks the latest use of local ad time to circumvent those awkward moments when a particular TV network would prefer not to run a certain ad. MillerCoors recently ran one-second ads for Miller High Life on local stations airing this year's Super Bowl; Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, has a lock on the game's national broadcast as its exclusive malt-liquor marketer. Likewise, Diageo ran local ads for Smirnoff Ice during the 2003 Super Bowl broadcast, helping the spirits marketer get around Bud's exclusive roost in the popular contest.
Not much they can do
CNN and MSNBC, two of the cable networks running the "GMA" ads, declined to comment, and with good reason: They didn't sell the ads, and there isn't much they can do to block them from the air. Local cable systems get a handful of ad inventory every hour and often run ads from TV networks hoping to lure viewers elsewhere.
At CNBC, executives can't do much about the tactic, but they can certainly promote their own fare when asked about ABC's maneuver. "As I am sure you know, we don't sell ads placed locally," said CNBC spokesman Brian Steel. "Given that we have the most affluent and educated audience on TV and we are essentially DVR-proof, strategically it obviously makes sense that they would want buy time on CNBC."
Still, the fact is ABC is boldly hunting for non-"GMA" watchers and hoping to lure them elsewhere. "Six to 9 a.m. is when the decision is made as to what I should be watching. That's when we want to reach people," Mr. Ives said. "It's easier to convert someone who has the TV on at the time than it is to run a print ad to get them to remember."
The "GMA" ads, which feature copy about Diane Sawyer's tenacity, Robin Roberts' great spirit, Chris Cuomo's ability to cut through red tape and Sam Champion's weather reporting, have been on air for about two weeks, Mr. Ives said, and will run for about a month. (A campaign about evening-news anchor Charlie Gibson is in the works, he said.)
Local buying in this fashion can be used for rather brassy tactics. In 2004, NBC stations dropped promos from Time Warner's TNT that ran during Thursday-night showings of "E.R." The promotions were for "Without a Trace," a CBS show that aired opposite "E.R." but also appeared as reruns on Monday nights on TNT. TNT's spots ostensibly promoted the syndicated version of the show it had programmed, but the ads were also a reminder to viewers that CBS was showing a new episode at that moment while you were watching NBC's "E.R." NBC ran the TNT spots for several weeks, however, before taking them off the air.
Meanwhile, you can expect to see more ads for "Good Morning America," said Mr. Ives, who called the current campaign one of ABC News's "tent-pole" efforts for the year. The "GMA" spots could soon show up in movie theaters, he said.