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History Tries Ads That Entertain, Too

May 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

History Tries Ads That Entertain, Too
One of the gripes against television commercials is that they aren’t terribly entertaining.
So when the History Channel struck a deal with its first-time ad partner Ancestry.com for a Memorial Day weekend ad campaign, the cable network’s goal was to test a new style of ad that feels more like programming than marketing.
The cable network planned to run over the holiday weekend one-minute “mini-documentaries,” followed by a traditional 30-second spot. If the ads are successful and lead to increased viewer retention during commercial breaks, History Channel will offer such premium branded content options to additional advertisers.
History’s effort is emblematic of the trying situation confronting both advertisers and programmers. Consumers increasingly are using digital video recorders to skip ads, so networks are desperate for new ways to keep viewers engaged.
The partnership with Ancestry.com will serve as a proving ground for the mini-documentary concept as a new ad vehicle, said Amy Baker, senior VP of ad sales at History Channel. “It really captures all the issues that are outstanding in the business. How do you create advertising on a network that is really going to make you stand out and be seen and heard? By coming up with content and running your 30-second spot adjacent to it, it feels like programming and it really is a story.”
The mini-documentary slated for the holiday weekend told the story of a first-generation Italian-American war veteran who researches his family tree. The campaign coincides with Ancestry.com’s introduction of a new collection of 20 million military records last week.
The mini-documentaries are branded with a History Channel logo on the lower right-hand corner, so they appear like interstitial programming. The campaign is part of Ancestry.com’s $30 million marketing budget for the year, nearly three times what the site spent last year, as it attempts to broaden its appeal.
The network will analyze Nielsen data on commercial viewing after the spots run. “Our goal is to minimize the drop-off, and if we can minimize that by a couple percentage points, that is a huge win,” Ms. Baker said.
She declined to disclose the value of such a campaign, but said History Channel dipped into its marketing budget to create the spots and Ancestry.com paid a premium for the ads.
Ancestry.com said its market research indicates 75 percent of adults are interested in their family history but don’t know how to find out what is available. The purpose of the campaign is to educate viewers on what they can learn, said Cheyenne Richards, director of customer acquisition for Ancestry.com. “We try to take it to real stories that can be consumed in small chunks that don’t have to feel like a project,” she said.
For its research, Ancestry.com draws from more than 5 billion names culled from more than 24,000 databases. The site attracts about 4.5 million unique visitors per month and counts 14 million registered users.

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