Memo to Acting FCC Chair Michael Copps on Cable TV “Branded Storytelling”: A Tour of Embedded TV Advertising

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are emailing you the link to this week’s Advertising Age’s story called “Designing a Custom Fit: Cable Offering more integrated, multiplatform deals.”  If you needed any additional evidence that the business model that further merges programming content with advertising requires scrutiny, debate, and safeguards (especially in the youth market), we offer the following article excerpts as evidence.  Clearly, the comedy writers are creating the marketing strategies for some of the cable programming networks.  But I’ve put a few of the best lines in bold:

Call it extreme sponsorship.

As advertisers look for maximum returns on their media investments, cable networks are offering an increasing number of creative, customized and multiplatform ways to partner with marketer brands—and to make sure viewers are paying attention.

The options for integrated marketing have gone far beyond a title sponsorship or a simple product placement. Today the buzzwords are “content-mercials,” “intromercials,” “branded storytelling” and custom marketing. Network series stars are featured in marketers’ commercials—and marketers’ products have a starring role in hit series…USA Network’s approach is to treat an advertiser’s brand as a supporting character in its multiplatform “Characters Welcome” credo. “Our network is not about one genre or one demographic. We are about characters. We celebrate the character of your brand,” says Chris McCumber, exec VP-marketing, digital and brand strategy for USA Network…

USA’s hottest show right now is “Burn Notice.” In its inaugural season, “Burn Notice” partnered with Saab 9-3 for an online game, “Covert Ops,” that allowed users to “drive” a virtual Saab all over Miami…In “Covert Ops,” “while you are playing the game, you are using the elements of Saab. The game drew more leads to than the number of cars available to sell,” Mr. McCumber says. “The gaming area has incredible opportunities for brand integration.”…USA’s on-air integrations include using Hoover vacuums to “sweep” graphics off the screen during “Clean House.”…

On A&E Television Networks’ History, Subaru is a presenting sponsor for the upcoming “Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone.”…

“We provided the explorers at certain points in the expedition [in four episodes] with the Subaru—where it made sense,” says Mel Berning, exec VP-ad sales for A&E Television Networks.

The integrations highlight features such as trunk space capacity and vehicle toughness off-road. Thirty-second “content-mercials” will run in every episode…AMC is promoting its Branded Storytelling—a way for advertisers to tell their brand stories through AMC’s programming, says Bill Rosolie, AMC exec VP-sales….Examples include: Takeovers, where marketers can own an entire episode, movie or day with their messages; Matching Moments, where AMC breaks the action with a sponsored pod that directly follows relevant content; and “Matching Attributes,” where brands’ messages are connected to key movie content by using custom creative to run within the film…

Nickelodeon has made multiplatform integration central to its ad sales efforts. This year Nick teamed with Walmart for an integrated effort celebrating the 10th anniversary of the No. 1 kids show, “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” The plan included TV, print and online media backed by in-store support. The Happy Place inside its Walmart stores offered exclusive Sponge Bob merchandise. A microsite ( requests a sign-on code, only available at Walmart stores, to allow visitors access to exclusive content.

In 2008 Nick and AT&T joined efforts on a Web site where kids could text “iCarly,” get an iCarly ringtone, view cool gadgets (such as the Palm Centro or the AT&T Slate) and see a sneak peek of the iCarly movie “iGo to Japan,” which aired last November.

source:  Designing a Custom Fit.  Nancy Coltun Webster.  Ad Age.  May 4, 2009

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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