A bunch of comedians who aren't in the show will appear in ads -- doing their shticks in 30 seconds while riding in a new Honda Pilot with one of the show's hosts in the driver's seat. Viewers will be able to vote for comics online and watch the winner do a slightly longer set at the contest's end.
"It's a show within a show, so while it is paid content, it is going to run through the series scheduled in the same break every week, furthering our efforts at seeing how to develop a habit with the advertisers," said Barbara Blangiardi, NBC Universal's senior VP-strategic marketing.
It's far easier just to run the same 30-second ad across dozens of broadcast and cable channels. And one of the conversations at the upfront will be about how media outlets bring in smaller audiences these days. One emerging theory posits that commercials that speak to target audiences are more memorable than those that speak to the world at large. Tying ads to specific pieces of content is a deliberate attempt to play down the feeling of interruption viewers have when ads start to roll. Honda's ad, created with a relatively new unit of NBC's ad-sales group, "isn't such an abrupt cut so that it automatically takes [watchers] out of what they are viewing. It's a smooth segue," said Lisa Herdman, VP-associate director of network buying at RPA, the Santa Monica, Calif., agency that works for American Honda Motor Co.
Making ads 'pop'
This stuff isn't easy. Last year, NBC and Publicis Groupe's Starcom met months in advance of the upfront market to devise a way to have a message from insurer Allstate tied to a specific episode of "Friday Night Lights." But tying ads to plots, characters and programs "makes them pop," said Mike Pilot, NBC Universal's president-sales and marketing.
Past promotions that weren't customized "really didn't move the needle materially in our efforts" to keep audiences from switching away or skipping, Mr. Pilot said. When running a tailored promotion from MasterCard during the drama "Life," however, NBC found that viewing of the ad break spiked 24% among people using TiVo.
One project under way will revive a promotion involving Sprint and WPP Group's MindShare, its media agency. During the current TV season, Sprint ran a 15-second ad during "Heroes" that was drawn in comic-book colors and told viewers to stick around if they wanted to create their own heroes. Then they saw an ad from Sprint, followed by a longer promo telling them what they could do on the web.
But the promotion was halted due to the writers strike, and Ms. Blangiardi is hard at work to bring it back in the fall. This time, she said, it should extend to many NBC Universal divisions, including the broadcast network, the web and even home-video distribution. When it comes to coming up with ways to entertain audiences, she said, "it just doesn't have to be inside the program."