Brands beef up their supporting role

Whether the screen is giant or tiny, keeping TV viewers glued to the ads is a growing concern. It requires getting exponentially creative, both inside and outside commercial pods. Here are some of the new brand-driven plot twists...

It’s a no-brainer that marketers keep coming back year after year for integration roles in the fall TV sked. What takes brains is plotting fresh premises to reach viewers at the couch, the computer and ultimately the cash register.

Of course, standard 30-second spots are still cast in commercial pods, but integration is playing a more sophisticated supporting role. ‘Research shows that it’s the combination of a traditional media buy with the extraordinary in-show that gives you the most bang for your buck,’ says CTV VP marketing Mary Kreuk.

At this year’s CTV upfront presentation in June, there was a big focus on homegrown programs such as Flashpoint and The Listener – both of which will air in the U.S. too (talk about a role reversal). That’s a handy situation for marketers looking for integration opps in dramatic series, as well as performance and reality fare, produced north of the border.

Naturally, the sixth and final season of Corner Gas is attracting significant attention, especially following the emotional farewell by the cast and standing ovation by the audience at the June upfront. It’s been a few years since the Corner Gas Christmas episode starred the Sears catalogue, but with the international success of the series, Bruce Neve and Mediaedge:cia’s work is getting mileage every time the mistletoe reappears.

This fall, it will be Kraft rolling out the red carpet for Cheez Whiz. The brand will premiere a cleverly written little scene that captures the essence of Cheez Whiz while maintaining the creative integrity of the series.

The scene doesn’t scream integration, because the series is so food- and iconic brand-obsessed that the pairing seems a natural fit. Product usage data shows that a Corner Gas viewer is likely to be a Cheez Whiz user, and the show ranks favourably among viewers in our Western heartland.

Without giving away too much, the scene has characters interacting with the brand and, of course, delivering a lot of laughs. When asked whether the integration spans multiple eps, sources advised watching the show in the fall to find out. But you don’t buy in for that kind of integration without taking it beyond the airwaves.

Kraft Canada senior product manager Catherine Stilo says the company worked with CTV to develop a fully integrated program that ‘truly generates 360-degree consumer surround. The program will be brought to life onscreen, on-pack, online, on-page and in-store. The activity cleverly marries the brand personality of Cheez Whiz with the quirkiness of the show.’

Kraft will incorporate Corner Gas at-shelf and in-grocery to promote the show and a newly designed Cheez Whiz label when the series returns. Contesting runs online until the end of the year, giving consumers an opportunity to sound off about their love of Cheez Whiz for the chance to win ‘a once in a lifetime, exclusive experience,’ says Stilo. Print advertising in What’s Cooking magazine and online support through the Kraft and CTV websites will round out the campaign.

The whole program is based on a partnership of assets. ‘This label not only promotes the show, but drives to web for the contest details. We are still sorting through the digital extensions of the program,’ says Terry Chang, VP and investment director at MediaVest’s Toronto office, which brought the idea to Kraft and made it happen with CTV. (Ad agency JWT rounded out the players in this integration program).

As for other returning series building up to CTV’s fall sked, they’ll also be backed by returning brands – in both time-tested and fresh ways. P&G has been integrated with Canadian Idol for the past two years, and Toronto’s The Media Company arranged for the marketer to return with the series’ sixth season for a starring role from June through to September. So there’s a moment in every show when host Ben Mulroney introduces viewers to the Pantene-branded backstage room, where competitors are getting their hair and makeup done. And then there’s Telus and The Media Experts, who’ve tied the brand to Canadian Idol as its exclusive SMS provider. So every time the phone banner pops up on screen, it’s Telus giving viewers the ability to engage with the show via mobile devices.

‘A lot of advertisers are after integrated media efforts,’ says Kreuk, ‘and you’re always trying to change it up and make it look different. You have to keep it fresh. I have a whole brand partnerships team, and we look for these opportunities that let an advertiser break through.’

At least one brand star planning on returning for Idol but looking to change up the feel of its integration is TD Canada Trust, along with its Toronto media agency, MBS. In the past, host Ben Mulroney invited fans to win a chance to sit in the most comfortable seats in the house: the big green chairs of the TD Canada Trust Comfort Zone. At press time, MBS had met with the show’s producers to go beyond that this year and strike a more intimate chord with viewers, although the deal specs had not been signed. The plan is that a celebrity host will sit in the green chairs with a competitor to speak about the challenges they’ve overcome and how they get comfortable enough to perform on television. The segments are slated to appear in several of the top 10 shows, which start July 14.

‘What we’re trying to do is build some equity around TD’s comfort positioning,’ says Misa Kim, VP promotions and sponsorship marketing at MBS. ‘What we’ve done with Idol for the past couple of years is build this physical comfort zone and try to create some desirability around it. It’s been working well for us, but now we’re trying to create an emotional link. We are going from a place-based comfort zone to more of an emotional comfort zone.’

Traditional brand spots are part of the package, but the purpose of the in-show integration is not to hard-sell info about banking services, mortgage rates or extended hours. A consumer promotion will give viewers the chance to win a trip to sit in the audience for the show’s finale, but it will be driven online and on-air.

‘We don’t want to put something in front of them that’s not entertaining,’ says Kim. ‘Viewers will enjoy watching the integrations, because we’re not trying to sell them anything. Well, not overtly, anyway. The 30-second spot will never go away, but now it’s all about enhancing it.’

TD Canada Trust has also forged ahead to try new things with Canwest Broadcasting. On June 2, the bank began rolling out title sponsorship for a full evening of programming for 52 weeks. Monday nights, from 8-11 pm, are called TD Canada Trust First Timer Mondays on HGTV. Programming in that block, explains Kim, will be about first-time home experiences – whether it’s buying, selling, renovating or decorating a home. In the past, TD Canada Trust has sponsored entire shows, but taking over prime time is a first for the bank.

Within every half-hour of the three-hour window, TD Canada Trust will have tagged promos for shows airing on Monday nights, as well as a 30-second vignette. These vignettes amount to a miniseries that follows a young couple through the experience of buying and renovating their first home. A total of 15 vignettes produced by Canwest’s D71 creative group will air over the year-long integration deal, following the arc of a story. In most of the vignettes, TD Waterhouse SVP (and host of MoneyTalk on BNN) Patricia Lovett-Reid appears, interacting with the couple and offering advice. They’ll also air online at HGTV.ca‘s Real Estate and First Timer Mondays sections.

To top off the night’s integration, one of HGTV’s shows on the Monday night sked is Marriage Under Construction, which premieres on September 29. That series, like the vignettes, tells the story of a young couple buying and renovating their first home. Contractor Vincenzo Sica appears on the series as well as in some of the vignettes.

Canwest, bolstered by the specialty channels now under its umbrella, is also going into the fall with integration plans set to peak during premiere time.

One such deal marks a first for advertiser integration by launching an online entertainment digital channel dedicated to American Express, which the brand dubs as the next logical phase of its ‘More Than Just a Card’ campaign (developed by Ogilvy and Mather and launched in November, 2007).

The More Access Digital Channel ‘brought to you by American Express’ (canada.com/moreaccess) showcases the brand’s sponsorships, branded events, promos and special treatment experiences, along with other Canwest-created content.

Not only does the channel give viewers web-exclusive video and behind-the-scenes footage from Heroes and other Canwest shows, it pumps out other co-branded content such as daily articles on entertainment, restaurant reviews, the marketer’s own concert ticket alerts and event coverage from the National Post’s Shinan Govani. Effectively, sponsored events like June’s Lipstick Jungle Luncheon with Candace Bushnell are becoming the brand’s own media offerings.

The strategic partnership includes the integration of branded Hot List vignettes, which air across Global, E! and Canwest’s family of specialty channels, such as HGTV and Food Network. The vignettes deliver reporting on American Express experiences in music, dining and other entertainment events. The integrated campaign will tie into other Canwest print and digital properties, including Canada.com.

‘This is a first for us,’ says Tina Santoro, senior manager of advertising and sponsorship with American Express Canada. ‘It stemmed from how we make our campaign more scalable. It launched last November, and it really felt like we were doing a lot of the work on our end to drive traffic to our website.

‘When we started in this relationship, we needed to make it easier on ourselves, and Canwest was the perfect partner because it’s got the right audience. Where the relationship evolved was around mutual benefits. For us, it’s with assets that we wouldn’t normally have, but Canwest also saw the value in terms of access to information on various components of entertainment that American Express brings to the table. It’s a combination of providing relevant information to consumers and a heightened level of access. At the end of the day, it’s a win for us and a win for Canwest, but it’s also a win for the public.’

The initiative runs until the end of October, after which the brand will likely pursue other integrated initiatives with its AOR, the Toronto office of Mindshare.

At press time, American Express Canada was still exploring ideas on how to leverage the popularity of Food Network celebrity chefs into its Summerlicious festival sponsorship in Toronto this month.

As well, integrations at Canada’s public broadcaster are getting more interesting, and more common. A show like The Border would be a natural fit for automaker or telco integration, while Sophie might soon be open to packaged goods placements. At press time, the CBC was planning a first-time fall preview, packaged for a single sponsor.

CBC director of marketing and brand activation Jamie Michaels says this is the first year that the net is pushing into the fall season with an active strategy for giving advertisers show integration access.

‘This season, our doors are really open to advertisers looking for integration beyond the 30-second spot,’ says Michaels. ‘One of the things we’ve really been pushing the past couple of years is the fact that we build so many of our shows from the ground up that we can integrate people at the right time. And I think finally our message is out there.’

Advertisers who signed up with Dragons’ Den in the beginning have stayed with the show and will return in the fall with season three. GM’s Cadillac brand, for example, will refresh its integration into the series’ sleek opening sequence, most likely giving the dragons a brand new model to arrive in before taking pitches from the show’s competitors – which Michaels calls a ‘true, organic integration. It is not a ‘Presented By’ message.’

Also returning with the series is Calgary-based investment firm Concrete Equities, which has supported the show since year one. This advertiser leverages the show to give viewers the power to vote for their favourite competitors and have Concrete Equities reward it with $75,000 in start-up support (an increase over last year’s prize). The company is also sponsoring the show’s cross-country auditions and the online video auditions to round out the integration.

This fall, the CBC has inked a new integration deal for the third season of Little Mosque on the Prairie with insurance/financial services company The Cooperators, arranged by OMD Toronto.

The company has worked with CBC on promotions in the past, but this is a new level for the advertiser. The deal gives The Cooperators storyline integration, marking a significant move toward integration opps for advertisers in the public broadcaster’s scripted comedy fare.

‘As the show progresses, the characters are going through various ‘life moments,’ and it will be very natural for some of these characters to interact with The Cooperators,’ says Michaels. ‘There will also be supporting media, and we’ll probably look at things like a contest, but the storyline integration is what we’ve got planned for now.’

Until brands’ traditional TV spots, nestled tightly together in commercial pods, are just so damn entertaining that the PVR-powered viewer actually seeks them out, expect to see an increasing number of content-vertising scenarios unfold on a screen near you.