MTV Plans to Increase Its Blending of Ads and Shows
New York Times
May 8, 2008
Every year at this
time, networks pitch advertisers on their programs for
the coming year in previews called the upfronts. On
Thursday, MTV Networks will sell not only the appeal of
its programs but of its commercials as well.
A scene from a series of spots called “Men of Action” for Spike TV, which ties in products from Kay Jewelers and KFC.
In the past year MTV Networks, which is owned by Viacom, has produced a series of commercials for its advertisers that look like regular content on its roster of channels, including MTV, CMT and Spike.
For example, a short chase movie called “Get Moe,” intended to look like an ersatz “Bourne Ultimatum,” is actually a series of 60-second commercials for Mountain Dew. A series of shorts called “Men of Action” thrusts the heroes into violent confrontations that somehow promote the virtues of KFC and Kay Jewelers.
The stars of the CMT network’s top series “Trick My Truck” appear in a series of spots featuring tips on how to maintain your tricked-out truck, including the timely use of oil from Exxon.
At its upfront, MTV will be telling advertisers that these techniques — which are called “podbusting” because they break up commercial pods with content that is almost indistinguishable from the entertainment programming — have greatly enhanced viewer engagement with the commercials and their retention of the ads’ messages.
“The results are amazing,” Hank Close, the president for sales at MTV Networks, said in a telephone interview that previewed his sales pitch to the advertisers. “In many of these messages we’re seeing 100 percent retention.” MTV Networks wants to attract more advertisers based on the success of these experiments.
“We are increasingly being asked by advertisers to create messages for audiences in our own voice,” Mr. Close said.
The cable television company is promoting podbusting as a way to persuade viewers not to skip over or drift away from the advertising that interrupts the programs — an increasingly crucial aspect of the television business where the price of advertising is now being measured in how many people are watching the commercials, not the shows.
“We’re looking to redefine the commercial experience,” said John Shea, who runs the integrated marketing division for MTV and VH1.
Dario Spina, who handles the same job for MTV’s entertainment channels like Comedy Central and Spike, said of countering the digital video recorder, “That’s the idea here; we want to blur the lines between the commercial breaks and the entertainment content.”
The ideas MTV has hatched go well beyond the more pragmatic product placement that has become the most common counter to commercial avoidance.
“We’re trying to change the product-placement paradigm,” Mr. Shea said. That has meant steps like taking animated characters from the antismoking “Truth Campaign” and inserting them as commentators on repeats of MTV’s “Real World” — a concept not unlike the old “Mystery Science Theater 3000” series, except the animated commentators here direct viewers to the antismoking campaign’s Web site.
But the pseudo-commercials are MTV’s boldest move. In one of the most elaborate pseudo-commercials, a young designer shows how she comes up with her fashions in a three-and-a-half minute movie that dovetails perfectly with the young female audience for “The Hills,” even as it celebrates the designer’s association with Target stores.
MTV is even keeping the live action from its “TRL” program on view while a commercial is running, using a screen-within-screen technique.
One more example is “C.S.I. Guys,” a series of short movies that have played on the Spike channel’s repeats of the “C.S.I.” crime series. The far less professional C.S.I. team in Spike’s commercials gets to the scenes of murders only to be distracted from the task by a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee or the aroma of a Papa John’s pizza.
“Viewers keep watching right through the commercial,” Mr. Spina said, adding that “good commercial content is good content.”
Advertising revenue at Viacom’s media properties, which include MTV Networks, rose 8 percent last quarter.