Scripps Offers Marketers a 'Byte' or Two

Custom Spots Aim to Improve Ad Engagement

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Before commercial ratings became a battle of marketer vs. network, the ad team at the Scripps networks was looking to take an early lead in pod engagement. Steve Gigliotti, the networks' exec VP-ad sales and emerging media, started in 1999 with a series of 60-second custom spots tied to programming on the DIY network, followed by a successful series on Food Network called "Food Bytes."
Great American Country's 'Short Cuts' chronicle 17-year-old country singer Taylor Swift's trip to New York.
Great American Country's 'Short Cuts' chronicle 17-year-old country singer Taylor Swift's trip to New York.

'Short Stories'
Now the ads are branching out across all five Scripps brands, including Great American Country, Fine Living and HGTV, with marketers such as Kraft, Sears and Wachovia Bank on board for a three-part branded series called "Short Stories," beginning with Home Depot's custom on-brand special "Easy Outdoor Living" on Fine Living that premieres May 27. All spots follow stars of the Scripps networks' programming as they embark on unique adventures -- complete with higher brand recall.

In a study Scripps conducted among 2,200 adults aged 18 to 54 involving 40 of the networks' short-form custom-programming spots, Mr. Gigliotti and his research team found the average brand recall of commercials following the branded series ranked 69% higher than those that didn't. "We have what I think is at least one answer to the question about TiVos and DVRs and who's watching during the breaks," Mr. Gigliotti said.

Inspired by a well-known series of ads by coffeemaker Taster's Choice in the early 1990s that followed an ongoing story of a couple, the spots were designed to get the audience involved with engaging storylines. Great American Country's "Short Cuts," for example, chronicle 17-year-old country singer Taylor Swift's trip to New York for the release of her debut album, introduced by shots of sponsor Oscar Mayer Weinermobiles in Manhattan.

Local-news veterans
The spots were created by a team of local-news refugees, including Peabody award-winning team leader Jim Zarchin, Scripps' senior VP-custom programming and a former TV news reporter for stations in Memphis, Chicago and Cincinnati. "All of these episodes are stories told over three acts, and they've been successful we're telling stories that draw viewers in and people want to see what happens next," Mr. Zarchin said.

As commercial ratings data gets more granular starting May 31, with Nielsen offering minute-by-minute data in addition to the average program ratings it already provides, commercial engagement has become an issue of heightened important for marketers concerned that the onus is on them to keep commercial viewing consistent with the program ratings. Starcom has already cut a deal with Discovery's HD networks that would employ an even more specific measurement, second-by-second, to enhance audience guarantees.

Mr. Gigliotti said the networks are open to doing such specific deals, but will be following the industry as they experiment with different executions. "It's healthy for the advertising industry to focus on the metrics that make sense to measure the effectiveness of advertising," he said. "And if break ratings are it, engagement ratings will be what the metric becomes in the coming years."
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