Madison+Vine: Branded content hits Hispanic TV

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Spanish-language soap opera "Prisionera" is the usual dramatic mix of star-crossed lovers, betrayal and wrongful imprisonment-along with a demonstration of call waiting and picture taking using Verizon Wireless cellphones.

Branded content has come to scripted drama on Spanish-language TV. In an effort to be more relevant to its U.S. Hispanic audience, NBC-owned Telemundo is now producing all four of its hour-long nightly novelas rather than relying on the imports from Latin America that have always been the programming staples for Spanish-language TV networks in the U.S. Those 20 hours a week of locally produced novelas airing between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. offer branded-content opportunities never available on imported shows.

Two of three product placements for Verizon have already aired. And during the last four weeks of "Prisionera" in November, six more marketers will appear in the novela in some form of product placement, said Steve Mandala, Telemundo's exec VP sales. "We're still in a very developmental stage of understanding how to use it best."

In the general market, the growing use of digital video recorders such as TiVo is an impetus to develop branded content that can't be zapped like a TV commercial. Although 8.9% of U.S. households have a DVR device now, Forrester Research predicts that figure will grow to 36% by 2007 five years.

Not a threat

Hispanics have a great appetite for DVRs. According to a Simmons NCS/NHCS spring 2004 survey of PVR ownership, 3.8% of Hispanic adults have a PVR and 9.8% said they plan to purchase one in the next 12 months. That compares to 2.6% DVR ownership by non-Hispanic adults, of whom 4.4% said they plan to buy one in the next 12 months.

"Hispanics have tended to overindex on a lot of electronics for the home because they spend a lot of time at home," said Jim Irvine, senior director of media strategies at Lopez Negrete Communications, Houston. But he said hat doesn't necessarily mean Hispanics, who don't consider commercials as much of an interruption as Anglo viewers do, will be quick to zap. "Latins have a tendency to put a higher value on commercials," he said.

While PVR usage is "not significant enough in the Hispanic market for us to see it as a major threat," said Oswald Mendez, VP-director of integrated communications at independent Hispanic agency the Vidal Partnership, New York, marketers trying to reach Hispanics are nevertheless looking to the future.

Verizon was integrated into the novela in two scenes that aired in August and September. In one, a character uses caller ID as she waits for a call about her kidnapped father. In another, a woman gives an English lesson to a young man she has a crush on by showing him how to photograph a flower with her phone. For Verizon, it was a chance to show how the products are used.

"Spanish-dominant Hispanics aren't really comfortable with technology," said Linda Lane Gonzalez, CEO of Viva Partnership, a Miami-based Hispanic agency that buys media for Verizon Wireless. "We went through 10 or 12 scenarios" with Telemundo.

In meetings with the network's marketing executives, Viva discussed do's and don'ts, she said. For instance, the phone shouldn't be used during the novela's abduction scene, or while the caller is driving a car, or in a bar. And the camera feature should be used in a well-lit area so the picture shows up. Viva nixed using the camera phone to catch someone's boyfriend out with another girl, she said.

Telemundo was first introduced to produce placement in novelas during a short-lived deal with Brazil's TV giant Globo several years ago to produce Spanish-language versions of Globo's wildly successful Portuguese-language Brazilian novelas, which are usually packed with product placements. A product placement for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest toothpaste appeared in Telemundo's version of TV Globo's "Vale Tudo," ("Anything Goes") Mr. Mandala said. And Telemundo's "Amor Descarado," ("Brazen Love") which ended earlier this year, included other P&G brands and Nissan Motor America, he said.

Telemundo has already attracted less integrated branded content deals in other kinds of programming. Wendy's International sponsors "Dinner and a Movie with Wendy's," in which the hosts munch fast food as they introduce the late night movie on weekends.

And Century 21 did weekly segments last year called "Camino a Casa" ("The Way Home") in a branded mini-reality show on Telemundo's morning show that followed a young couple buying their first home with the help of a Century 21 representative, said Vidal's Mr. Mendez. Vidal organized both deals.

Spanish-language variety shows like Univison's "Sabado Gigante" have been doing crude product placement for decades, including contest sponsorships and on-air plugs.

tricky to price

But new genres are opening up new opportunities. This month Telemundo began airing the first home improvement show on Spanish-language TV, called "Asi Se Hace" ("That's How You Do It") with product placement by Big Lots. Home Depot and Lowe's are believed to be negotiating with Telemundo. Each week on "Asi Se Hace," a three-person team turns up to surprise someone with a makeover of a room for under $1,000.

"The biggest hurdle [with branded content] is being able to really guarantee the product will be incorporated, feel organic and get the guaranteed number of exposures," said Monica Gadsby, CEO of Tapestry, Chicago, Publicis Groupe's multicultural media unit. "And it's a bit of a struggle to know how to price it. This is so new and groundbreaking. We're so used to 30-second commercials."

The high prices that branded content can command on popular English-language TV shows are way beyond the Hispanic market, she said.

Ms. Gonzalez said the Verizon product placement was "additional value" as part of a network buy on Telemundo. Declining to be specific about prices for product placement, Mr. Mandala said, "We talk to the advertiser about the value." And the marketer must be a Telemundo advertiser, he said.

The creative part of product placement is more of a challenge than pricing, he said. The writers and director don't go along with all the suggestions. Ms. Gonzalez, for instance, hoped that a novela character would mention that Verizon has the best wireless service. That didn't happen, she said. Another agency executive said that talks about a beer marketer having a presence in a bar featured in a novela and a car company having its cars prominently displayed didn't work out.

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