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CBS Tries to Teach Print Ads to Speak to Promote Fall Season

To Hawk New Shows, Eye Makes Another Effort to Link Print to Video

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The print ad for 'Unforgettable' with a shortcode for readers to dial.
The print ad for 'Unforgettable' with a shortcode for readers to dial.

It's hard to encapsulate the essence of a TV show in the frozen confines of a print ad. The TV show will have motion and sound; the print ad sits there and depends on the reader to linger over it for precious moments in order to make its promotion effective.

And yet, there's no ignoring the fact that potential fans of new TV programs -- entertainment aficionados -- are poring through the pages of magazines from Rolling Stone to Entertainment Weekly.

To make a stronger pitch to such consumers, CBS today is launching a series of ads in Time Inc.'s People magazine that ask readers to dial a "shortcode" on their mobile phones to see the ads come to life. Readers who take the CBS ads up on its offer will receive text messages with links that summon video showing the motionless ads start moving as the actors and actresses begin talking, leading into clips from the shows.

"You don't have to download any sort of an app," explained Anne O' Grady, exec VP for marketing at CBS. "You basically put the code in and you click the link and it plays." The ads will focus on CBS's five new fall programs: "2 Broke Girls," "Unforgettable," "Person of Interest," "How to Be a Gentleman" and "A Gifted Man."

The effort may catch the eye of other TV networks, all eager to snare viewers every autumn for glitzy but expensive new sitcoms and dramas. While featuring smart copy and a smiling actor or actress in a snapshot is a well-trod practice, there's no better way to make a pitch to a potential new user than by showing the product in action -- and a TV show, the product in this case, actually moves and gets its point across with plot and dialogue. Providing video in a print publication is the TV-network equivalent of Procter & Gamble or Reckitt-Benckiser offering a sample of soap or lotion along with an ad in a periodical.

A rival network has tested non-traditional print advertising that looks a lot like the publication in which it is featured. NBC has run ads in Entertainment Weekly for any number of its shows that look similar to some of the front-of -book articles featured in the magazine. NBC also generated some controversy in 2009 when it ran an ad for cop drama "Southland" on the front page of the Los Angeles Times; the L-shaped print promotion looked a lot like a regular news article.

At CBS, executives have been trying to make the jump from reading about a show to watching one less severe. In 2009, the network unleashed an innovative -- and costly -- gimmick in the pages of Entertainment Weekly. Tucked into the magazine's slick pages was a paper-thin video player that showed pre-loaded clips of programs including "The Good Wife," "Two and a Half Men," "NCIS: Los Angeles" and the now-defunct "Three Rivers" and "Accidentally on Purpose."

The ad drew lots of attention, but it's hard to replicate because of the expense involved in its production. To keep costs down at the time, CBS partnered with PepsiCo, which used the ad to promote its Pepsi Max drink, and only ran the promotion in issues distributed to subscribers in the New York and Los Angeles areas.

The new CBS ad had its challenges as well, Ms. O' Grady explained. The network's entertainment division had already produced promo shots for the shows, so the marketing department had to corral talent including Poppy Montgomery (the lead of "Unforgettable") and Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs (the principals in "2 Broke Girls") and get them to wear the same wardrobe they had on during the initial photography.

CBS had to tell the talent "to stand exactly the way you were standing" in the earlier photos, Ms. O' Grady said, and then have them start speaking. In pictures related to one of the comedies, the challenge only grew: One of the actors was holding a tie near his mouth.

Cognizant that some magazines stick around for a while past their issue date, CBS will make certain the videos remain online and available for several months, said Ms. O' Grady. "We want to leave them up for quite a while," she said. A magazine that is delivered to a doctor's office or hair salon stays around, she said. "We can keep these up three or four months and we're going to leave them live."

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