Marketers go beyond parody in `telenovela' ads

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Parodying the melodramatic telenovelas that dominate prime time on Spanish-language TV networks is one of the biggest cliches of Hispanic advertising, but marketers from Procter & Gamble Co. to Dodge are taking the genre seriously and creating their own multi-part dramas to showcase their brands.

P&G is airing a week-long novela called "El Secreto de Jazmin" in five 30-second episodes that revolve around both Secret body spray and a young woman's search for the father who abandoned her at birth. The spots ran daily during Univision's popular 8 p.m. novela.

The episodes follow the formula of a typical novela, except for the presence in every scene of Secret, which the heroine spritzes on her neck before her first line then slips into her purse.

Leo Burnett's office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where P&G's multicultural unit is based, and multicultural-buying unit Tapestry and SMG United, both Chicago, worked with Univision to produce the mini-drama.

A novela's protagonist is usually an innocent, beautiful young woman-much like Jazmin-but that's a little difficult with a novela that's really about the Dodge Ram truck. So GlobalHue, Southfield, Mich., has turned to the strong, silent rugged type in a novela reminiscent of the libro vaquero, or cowboy novel, popular in Mexico. "He's a character like Zorro, but with a Ram instead of a horse," said GlobalHue Creative Director Pablo Calonge.

Instead of a secret, Lucio has made a promise he must fulfill in the course of his journey through Mexico. The four episodes of "La Promesa" filmed so far each illustrate a different feature of the 2006 Dodge Ram 1500. In one episode, Lucio wakes up to find a wild wolf upon him; later the wolf hangs out with him in the truck, highlighting its interior design.

Mr. Calonge is so caught up in the novela that he won't reveal what Lucio's promise is. "That's the hook that keeps the audience following the commercials," he said.

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