EXCLUSIVE: Adult Swim promo puts lucky viewer on air

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Call it person placement, not product placement.

That's the nature of an integrated ad deal between Sony and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block to promote the soon-to-be-launched PlayStation3. Instead of writing the console into a coming episode of "Robot Chicken," the network, whose audience is young, male and cynical, will write in a viewer. Sony PlayStation3 will sponsor the contest, which kicks off today and runs through the holiday-buying season.

"Robot Chicken" is a stop-motion animated variety show that regularly spoofs pop culture-a recent episode pitted Garfield and Heathcliff against each other in "Cat Court" where justice is determined via a catfight, natch. The show, in its second season on Adult Swim, was co-created by Seth Green and Matt Senreich, a pair that regularly finishes each other's sentences when talking about the project.

"PlayStation was willing to have fun with the product, which was important because our audience is..." said Mr. Senreich, "ironically self-aware," finished Mr. Green. "It takes the piss out of pop culture."

He goes on: "Normal product placement can feel so heavy-handed. It's 'Then I downloaded the clips of the show on my Verizon VCast' or 'we all drove to the performance in my Honda.' We had fun trying to figure out how to integrate product placement without actually placing a product."

To win a likeness on the show, viewers have to submit videos about why they think they should be on "Robot Chicken." Messrs. Senreich and Green haven't determined how they will write the viewer into the show, and they're not sure whether the storyline will revolve around the contest winner or some other topic. Maybe, Mr. Senreich said, "something in the videos will inspire us."

Sony's PlayStation brand has a long relationship with the kids' side of Cartoon Network, said Phyllis Ehrlich, senior VP-promotions marketing for Cartoon Network, but it hasn't done much with the Adult Swim side. Sony spent $1.1 million on Cartoon Network last year to market PlayStation games, according to TNS Media Intelligence. If that figure appears small it's because Sony spent little to market the console. This year will be a different story: PlayStation3 comes out Nov. 17, two days before Nintendo's Wii; the Xbox 360 has a yearlong head start.

They're all fighting for the young-male demo, "the heart of the games industry and very much the influencers. ... They help set the standard for what's cool and what the mainstream will end up playing," said Josh Larson, director-industry products at GameSpot, which tracks video-game-industry buzz. Adult Swim counts the male 18-to-24 audience as its sweet spot. Nielsen ratings show that two-thirds, or 146,000 of the network's 218,000 viewers in that age demo are men. And those numbers likely will rise once Nielsen begins measuring the college crowd in 2007.

The deal came together about a year ago at a meeting of Adult Swim executives and representatives from Sony and its media agency, Omnicom Group's OMD. "With Adult Swim we have to be really selective to find the brand fit and make sure the show creators are onboard," said John O'Hara, senior VP-ad sales.

PlayStation was a natural. "Everybody in our writers room owns about every console you can imagine," Mr. Senreich said.

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