Verizon buys ads tied to show promos

Mar 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In the most far-reaching strategy connecting a marketer to broadcast network promotional material, Verizon Wireless is incorporating its advertising message into promos for more than a half-dozen prime-time shows on multiple networks.
Since early February, the Verizon “test man” has repeated his catchphrase, “Can you hear me now?” in show-specific on-network promos for NBC’s “Frasier,” Watching Ellie,” “Fear Factor” and NBA coverage, for ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” and “According to Jim,” for The WB’s “Dawson’s Creek,” “Angel” and “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment,” and for Fox’s “Grounded for Life” (via a contest to win a cruise and a guest spot on the sitcom).
“The aim is to make `test man’ ubiquitous,” said Verizon Wireless spokesman Jim Gerace.
Only CBS and UPN declined (separately) to help “test man” become an advertising crossover phenom.
Verizon’s original hope was that “test man” would be integrated into actual programs-the ultimate product placement. Networks weren’t ready to go there yet, but they were amenable to putting “test man” into network show environments.
And so “test man” utters his signature question while standing near “Dawson’s Creek’s” signature rowboat or in “Angel’s” dark alley, or while exiting a studio door marked “According to Jim.”

And the promos are getting great placement. Last week, for example, the Verizon-sponsored promo for “Ellie” ran immediately after “Frasier” and right before “Watching Ellie” began. As a voice-over told viewers to stay tuned for the new Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom, a picture of “test man” appeared in front of a large streetside clock labeled “Watching Ellie,” and “test man” repeated his signature line.
As part of the same big overall deal packaged by NBC Connect, Verizon Wireless has taken over sponsorship of halftime in late-day NBA games on NBC, so viewers are now seeing “test man” incorporated into the halftime-closing animated graphics. In a separate spot that airs during the game, “test man” makes his appearance on a basketball court being mopped by a ball boy.
Talks between NBC and Verizon began around the turn of the year before “test man” was cast, according to NBC Agency Co-President John Miller. NBC began airing its spots before the Olympics and resumed after the Games ended in late February. The other networks rolled in during the following two weeks.
Verizon’s media agency is Zenith Media, but the NBC Agency mostly worked with Bozell, Verizon’s creative brand agency, Mr. Miller said. Bozell shot “test man” against a green background for insertion into material developed by NBC, for whom this concept is not without precedent.
Several years ago, Polaroid bought spots in which its instant camera would spit out pictures of NBC casts. And Capital One has sponsored some “`Fear Factor’ Moment” promos.
The Verizon/NBC promos have been crafted so they do not appear to connote product endorsement by talent (who often have their own endorsement deals), Mr. Miller said.
The WB started running its “test man” spots Feb. 13. Dean Norris, senior vice president for special projects at The WB, seems unconcerned by “test man’s” ubiquity.
“Do we think our spots look better than the others? Yeah,” he said.
As for whether “test man” will imprint on the public’s mind or wear out his welcome with his very ubiquity, no one knows yet.
“You have to be on the air for a while before it registers, then you have to be on the air a while longer before it can become effective, and you have to be on the air even longer before you start realizing whether it might be burning out,” Mr. Miller said.