As head of Hispanic ad agency Publicidad Arismendi, Eva Rodriguez won General Motors' Buick account and created the car brand's first Spanish-language commercial, which ran on Univision last week. But Eva isn't real. She's the heroine of Univision's 8 p.m. telenovela "Eva Luna," and part of her role is to take the product integration common in novelas to a new level.
In typical novela fashion, Eva starts out as a humble but beautiful apple-picker in Southern California and finds success and riches after falling in love with a man -- Arismendi's creative director, Daniel Villanueva -- and being mentored by the agency's founder, Julio Arismendi as she nurses him through a long illness. Eva rises to the top of the agency through a combination of hard work, her love of advertising, and the tutelage of Julio, who also leaves her a majority stake in the Los Angeles-based Hispanic ad agency after he fakes his own death when his evil wife Marcela poisons him.
For General Motors, the relationship with Univision and the "Eva Luna" novela goes way beyond traditional product integration, although there is plenty of that as different characters zip around in Chevy Cruzes and Traverses. In addition, Buick sponsors, among other things, the online replays of "Eva Luna" episodes on Univision's novela site.
Not only is the novela set in an ad agency, the plot includes the fictional Publicidad Arismendi's quest for the Buick account, Eva's successful pitch for the business, and the shooting of the real commercial, essentially relaunching Buick in the U.S. Hispanic market with the brand's first Spanish-language spot.
"We knew Buick didn't have any commercial creative so integrating the car into the storyline wasn't going to be enough," said Lia Silkworth, senior VP-media director at Tapestry, part of Starcom MediaVest Group.
General Motors' media deal with Univision built in the cost of producing the commercial, and the filming of the spot was done at the same time as the scene of Eva directing the commercial. During the two-day shoot at an upscale Miami shopping mall, the "Eva Luna" cast and crew spent about an hour filming Eva, dressed in a white trenchcoat and very high heels, hopping behind cameras, scrutinizing storyboards and giving directions.
Behind the scenes, the spot was actually created by Buick's real Hispanic agency, Lapiz. Earlier, Lapiz worked closely with Univision, its writers, and General Motors, passing on new strategy as the real Buick client approved it, and coaching the characters.
"When Eva pitches the account to the Buick client in the novela, the same essence of the relaunch was there," said Lapiz Creative Director Eduardo Tua. "The new positioning is a more human kind of luxury. Our interpretation is not luxury for the rich, it's luxury that enriches."
When Eva and Daniel have a confrontation over pitch strategy, Eva's human-luxury approach wins out over Daniel's focus on car images. Lapiz even provided materials that were really presented to Buick but didn't make the final cut, to serve as storyboards and other images in the novela to make the fake agency seem more real.
"It was uncharted territory," said Mr. Tua.
Univision usually imports its highest-rated shows, like prime-time novelas, from Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa. "Eva Luna" is the first prime-time novela to be developed by Univision Studios, set up last year by Univision and giving the company control over the novela from the beginning. The nightly novela, which will end in mid-April, often draws between 4.7 million and 5.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen Co. ratings .
As Eva shoots the Buick spot, Debora, the mother who abandoned Eva as a child, discovers that Marcela earlier killed Daniel's parents, her partners in the Arismendi ad agency, because they wanted to sell their shares and leave the agency business. Marcela also poisoned her husband Julio, and doesn't know he faked his own death until he returns to seek justice for everyone before the novela ends.