SoapNet at 5: Mini-Dramas Fit the Brand

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Soap operas are notorious for hooking viewers into their story lines. SoapNet has proven it can be done in a matter of minutes, and advertisers are taking notice.

The network introduced its “One Minute Soap” franchise in 2003, premiering a one-minute episode of serialized drama on a Monday, then repeating the mini-episode, complete with its cliffhanger ending, throughout the week until the next installment. These so-called microseries conclude in six weeks after the sixth one-minute offering builds to a satisfying resolution.

Last year SoapNet turned the franchise into an opportunity for brand integration for advertisers. Match.com and Monster.com were the first to weave their brands into the mini-soap story lines. One resulting microseries, “Too Late,” told the story of newly divorced woman dating again through Match.com, only to have her ex-husband show up before her blind date arrived. “The Office” featured a woman who searched for a new job because she’d fallen for her boss.

They aren’t exactly commercials, residing somewhere in that murky region between advertising and original programming. With their straight-ahead storytelling and over-the-top melodrama, they look and feel like soaps, with the sponsor’s brand mentioned clearly in each episode.

Heidi Lobel, senior VP of sales for SoapNet, said viewers and advertisers have responded well, “This actually to me is way more than product placement,” she said. “It’s a true brand integration. It’s a partnership. It’s not just a can of soda on the desk in a scene.”

The series also fits the tone of the network, since SoapNet’s goal is to create a “24/7 soapy environment,” Ms. Lobel said. “We felt they were a fun way of establishing our brand identity-something our viewers couldn’t get elsewhere.”

Brand integration is becoming increasingly important to advertisers and to networks that are building such opportunities into their air.

“Clients are certainly looking to stand out in a cluttered marketplace, and showcasing a brand in a relevant situation is oftentimes more powerful and is a great complement to 30-second ads,” said Tim Spengler, executive VP and director of national broadcast at media buying agency Initiative.

The “One Minute Soap” franchise is a big undertaking. The network must oversee the scripting, casting and other aspects of the production process, making sure the episodes work both creatively and as vehicles for sales integration.

Based on the number of calls Ms. Lobel and her sales staff have received from advertisers, the efforts are clearly paying off. More than a dozen contacted SoapNet looking to create a “One Minute Soap” after the recent iterations aired this fall. Not all fit, though, she said.

The network plans to introduce more of the “One Minute Soaps” this year, and will move forward on the next season when it finds the right fit of product and show content, Ms. Lobel said.

“It’s a matter of partnering with the right advertiser so the brand integration is organic to the story and doesn’t look forced or gratuitous in any way,” she said.