Creating ways to beat zapping

Jan 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

At a time when more viewers than ever are zapping or tuning out commercials, some advertisers are looking beyond 30-second spots to new models of participation in programming, whether it’s show ownership, product placement, interstitial content, sponsorship or even overall time-block sponsorships.
“We’re looking for new ways to reach the viewer more effectively than we can right now,” said Mel Berning, president of U.S. broadcast for Bcom3 Group MediaVest Worldwide, New York.
Case in point: MediaVest is exploring the possibility of taking a high-concept TV movie with strong teen appeal and using it as the basis for production of a new limited-run summer series that would be an attractive vehicle for several of its major clients.
The rationale: For the network, it presents a relatively low-cost way to bring first-run programming to younger-demo viewers, who are always difficult to reach, especially in the hot-weather months. For advertisers, it is not only a sponsorship opportunity but also a way to integrate the client’s products into program content. Advertisers also benefit because they often retain revenue-participation rights in additional runs and get greater backend participation than usual.
The goal: Amortize the investment and put clients’ products into a “water-cooler buzz” environment. “There are really two marketplaces that we live in right now,” said Mr. Berning, who declined to publicly identify the project or the clients involved for competitive reasons and because a potential summer-series deal is at a “delicate” stage. “One is the commodity marketplace, where we all do business 52 weeks a year. There also is a marketplace now where we look for certain properties and programs that we can identify as terrific environments for our brands and look to build those into more than a place where we put 30-second commercials, where we get the product integrations and the sponsorships.”
Those are only some of the ways that MediaVest is helping clients achieve added value. Another example is that Capital One has developed a series of interstitial programming elements such as home-improvement and decoration vignettes that air on HGTV and a series of food preparation and recipe tips that will air on the Food Network in the second and third quarters, all supporting the company’s “hassle-free” credit card tagline. Each vignette will include a billboard, a 30-second tip and the Capital One creative, Mr. Berning said.
In the first quarter, Kraft is doing a sponsorship deal with ABC’s Happy Hour programming block, which airs from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. “Customized brand messages are part of the promotion and integrated into the programming: `The ABC Happy Hour brought to you by Kraft,”’ Mr. Berning said. The next iteration of the ABC-Kraft deal might include product placement, he added.
How are the prospects shaping up for the coming upfront TV ad market? Mr. Berning recalled that at this time last year he was anticipating that the 2002 upfront would be better than 2001, though no one predicted the record volume of business that was actually done.
Looking ahead to the 2003 upfront, the developing consensus is that “there probably won’t be less money spent in this year’s upfront,” he said. “The question that we’re all going to have to start looking at real hard right now is how much more can those numbers go up? How much can the upfront spending increase [beyond the 2002 level]?”
The answers to those questions depend on an extraordinary number of imponderables, from the impact of a possible war in Iraq to how strong automotive sales will be in 2003.
“Even the automakers are projecting that sales will not be as high in 2003 as they were in 2002,” Mr. Berning said. “There are questions about how long consumers can continue to spend. Refinancing [home mortgages] seemed to put a lot of money back into people’s pockets in 2002. That offset some of the wobbling consumer spending numbers that were coming out in September, October and November. … If things start to go south in the economy, budgets start to go south incredibly quickly, because everybody is working against the [profit-and-loss numbers] and corporate profits have just started to improve.
“But if the P&L starts to go south for any number of reasons, like less auto sales or less retail sales or just an economy that doesn’t respond because consumers no longer have as much money in their pockets, then I think those budgets [won’t be] as robust as they’ve been.”
On the other hand, the “television marketplace has probably been the best-performing marketplace in the entire economy, and certainly it’s been stronger than the balance of the advertising marketplace,” Mr. Berning concluded. Broadcast, he added, has managed to staunch erosion in the all-important 18 to 49 demo, “absolutely the strongest marketplace of all right now.”