'Smallville' Spawns Its Own Commercial Content

Toyota to Sponsor Two-Minute Spots Created With DC Comics

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- CW Network is taking its 7-month-old "content wraps" to the next level in a deal with Toyota Motor Sales USA. On April 19, Toyota will sponsor a series of comic-book inspired spots, created by DC Comics artists, during the first of the final five original "Smallville" episodes on the TV network.

Saatchi & Saatchi worked with Toyota, CW, WB Studios and DC Comics to develop two-minute comic-book-like 'Smallville' spots, which will answer unexplained questions and reveal some of the show's back story.

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The deal marks the network's first, cross-platform campaign developed around the content-wrap advertising format, Lisa Gregorian, exec VP-worldwide marketing of Warner Bros. Television Group, said.

The spots will direct viewers online to learn more about the back stories behind major plotlines in the Superman-inspired series.

No more snack breaks
The CW is not alone in experimenting with ways to keep viewers watching throughout the commercial breaks. As the industry moves toward a model that depends on commercial ratings, rather than programming ratings, the networks are getting creative about making sure they can deliver the viewers. ABC, for one, is offering advertisers the chance to embed their product into its programming as the lead out to a commercial (for example, having a character watching TV that is airing the marketer's ad). Fox this month introduced its own cartoon character known as Oleg the cab driver, whose antics executives hope will be enough to persuade people not to get up for a snack break.

Content wraps are a reality now, although as John Lisko, strategic communications director at Toyota's ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., said, "Maybe we'll call it something different two years from now, but this notion is not going to go away." He called content wraps "definitely the future of the way we're going to be more relevant to the consumer."

Mr. Lisko said Toyota had initially considered doing only content wraps on the CW when the network started last September (the result of the merger of Time Warner's the WB and CBS Corp.'s UPN). "But it was more important for us to do it the right way" rather than just be first, he said.

So Saatchi worked with Toyota, CW, WB Studios and DC Comics to develop the idea and bring it to life.

Wraps direct viewers to website
Toyota's buy includes a series of two-minute comic-book-like episodes, each produced by a different artist at DC Comics with stories that provide answers to unexplained questions from the TV show and details of a back story behind a major plotline. Each episode will air during a commercial break of the weekly show through May 17 and direct viewers to website where visitors can register to play a game solving clues tied to the TV program and a chance to win a Toyota Yaris small car.

Mr. Lisko said Toyota and Saatchi hope the effort will give them insights into holding viewers through commercial breaks when the content is directly related to the show. Toyota is using the campaign to keep up awareness around its Yaris model, launched last year. Toyota will have a variety of ways to measure the impact of the deal, he said, including TV show ratings, website activity and online registrants.

Ms. Gregorian said the network will send alerts about the online game to cross-carrier mobile phones. The multiplatform marketing program, dubbed "Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom," will also include street teams giving out clues to the online game in Boston, Los Angeles and New York.
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