How to Walk the Talk of Tailoring Ads to Content

Anti-Smoking Group to Create Unique Execution for Each ABC Channel

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NEW YORK ( -- The American Legacy Foundation isn't the biggest advertiser in the world, and its new anti-smoking effort, valued at between $20 million and $25 million, wouldn't wrinkle the forehead of an accountant in the offices of a marketing behemoth. But it just might be big enough to point the way to changes in how many feel advertising ought to be executed.

Spearheading an effort by a group of parties known as the National Alliance for Tobacco Cessation, American Legacy has struck a multifaceted pact with Walt Disney Co. that, of course, calls for traditional ads to run on properties including ABC, ESPN, Lifetime and ABC Radio. More interesting, perhaps, is the fact that in all instances, individual pieces of content tailored to the channel in which they run are also being placed and planned.

All the ads and promotions will introduce the concept of becoming an "EX," or ex-smoker -- but some have the potential to stand out more than others. ABC soap-opera stars will appear in video vignettes that run on ABC's daytime schedule and on Disney's SoapNet cable channel. Staffers from "Jimmy Kimmel Live" could appear in vignettes that run in ad breaks during that late-night program. ESPN is expected to air sports-themed vignettes sponsored by the EX concept. Lifetime will produce other video messages designed specifically for its viewers. And well-regarded ABC Radio personalities will interview people on their programs -- possibly American Legacy executives -- who are experts on smoking and how to stop doing it. (Some of the plans are still being hammered out, a testament to the logistically complex nature of this deal.)

The agreement underscores a hard lesson that has plagued marketers for years: Showing the same ad again and again doesn't necessarily drive a promotional message home. More often, it assails the senses of the average couch potato who watches TV or listens to radio to be entertained. Better to devise commercials that speak to the specific audience of a particular channel or program -- even if that means increasing the number of I's to be dotted and T's to be crossed.

"This is the beginning of a fairly dramatic departure from business as usual" that requires going to media outlets earlier than is the norm, said Matt Seiler, president-CEO, PHD North America. Typically, ad planners and buyers learn about creative executions and approach media outlets after the fact, he said. Going to them first can spark new opportunities. "The media owners control an awful lot of places where consumers go. Why not use them to create messages that are more resonant?"

Doing so, however, means marketers must get to work on ideas a lot sooner than they had in the past. "Lead time on both sides is critical," said Dan Longest, senior VP-Disney ABC Unlimited. Ads are "going to be more targeted" if ideas are broached early "instead of trying to retrofit" them to concepts developed at the last minute. "It's not as traditional as negotiating through CPMs and managing inventory," he added. "Yeah, it's a hell of a lot more complex."

Armed with research from American Legacy, Omnicom Group's PHD approached Disney ABC Unlimited, the company's cross-media sales division last fall. PHD has started a division, PHD Outlet, which aims to bring media companies into the planning process early -- the better to hear about programs and content that might help drive particular ad messages home.

Custom research
The pact also includes devising custom research to determine the effectiveness of the advertising that isn't necessarily tied to ratings points -- a reflection of the difficulty of measuring fragmenting audiences drawn to different pieces of entertainment. "The ratings aren't getting any bigger. The costs of making these shows aren't going down. How do you find a way to assign what the value is for advertising across a lot of these platforms that is tied to something more real, like client business objectives?" asked John Swift, exec VP-managing partner at PHD.

Tailoring ads to programming is a technique that has begun to surface across the TV landscape. Last year, AllState ran an ad at the end of an episode of "Friday Night Lights" on NBC tied to the show's specific plotline. Starcom, the company's media buyer, began negotiating the idea well before last year's upfront sessions. The fledgling TV network CW has generated attention with its "content wraps," several minute-long segments that try to tie in to the programs in which they air by featuring characters or hosts from shows using an advertiser's product. Ad seers predict more to come, particularly as marketers start to target consumers through their TV set-top boxes.

Catering to these new technologies and consumer patterns potentially means adding to the workload. "The more fragmented the buy and the more different kinds of people you're talking to in more different kinds of ways, means the more different kinds of pieces we're going to have to create," said John Trahar, VP-group creative director at GSD&M Idea City, American Legacy's creative agency.
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