May 1, 2010
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Earlier this week, Mediaweek ran this article explaining one of NBC Universal’s key strategies going into this year’s upfronts: “integrated sales marketing” (ISM).  The article describes that NBCU’s integrated marketing packages are intended to offer potential advertisers additional bang for their buck by maximizing the advertiser’s reach across NBCU holdings, with additional bonus features and advantages.

What exactly does all of this mean?  Essentially, NBCU’s emphasis on selling ISM deals focuses on delivering three potential benefits to clients.  First, by investing in a package, the client can choose from among NBCU’s television holdings (ranging from broadcast network NBC to cable channels USA, Bravo, Syfy, and more) as locations for their ads.  Second, the conglom is offering up their on-air talent as shills, so that the advertiser can produce an ad featuring Biggest Loser‘s Alison Sweeney or Community‘s Ken Jeong.  Finally, as part of this all-inclusive package, advertisers have an option to sponsor additional materials, including sweepstakes partnered with the company.

As the videos embedded above suggest, one such ISM deployed in both 2009 and 2010 was a partnership made with Turbo Tax leading up to Tax Day.  In addition to those ads featuring NBC stars, the company also sponsored ads throughout NBCU’s holdings, including on The Weather Channel, Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker, USA’s Psych, and NBC’s Heroes and Tonight Show.  One score even featured a “live” advertisement on Jimmy Fallon.  All of these ads referred to the programs during (or channels on) which they aired–starting with some variation of, “So, you’re watching The Weather Channel…did you know…”

It’s an interesting project, and one clearly intended to bolster NBCU’s profile, considering its fourth-place standing among other broadcast networks in terms of viewership.  By offering additional benefits that may not be possible from other networks (none of which have as large and diverse a system of cable holdings), the conglom clearly hopes to offset its poor performances with audiences.  Moreover, in addition to the large-scale sweep of the Turbo Tax example, NBCU also offers more targeted ISMs to advertisers looking to draw female audiences, environmentally-conscious audiences (with the Green is Universal campaign), and health-conscious audiences.

But will it work?  Some outlets rightly critique the 2010 Turbo Tax ads as rather lame (they’re not particularly novel or funny)–but also note that the presence of on-air talent within the ad caused them to stop fast-forwarding, which is really a win in and of itself.  There seems to be the sense that it’s certainly worth a shot, and NBCU has nothing to lose.  By packaging all of their holdings together, they do offer an enticing option unavailable from a lot of their competitors–one advertiser can put together a broad campaign pretty quickly and simply.  And the fact that they’re offering the use of their own stars provides added value for the customer without much added expense for NBCU.

Is this the wave of the future?  Who knows?  But it’s definitely an interesting development in NBCU’s attempts to offset poor performance with strategies designed to draw and keep advertisers.


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8 Responses to “ NBCU’s ISM FTW? ”

  1. Jonathan Gray on May 2, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    The Chuck ads with Joshua Gomez and others were sometimes funny. For all who wish the products would get out of the show’s space, it’s an intriguing alternative to put the show in the product’s space of the ad (though, of course, it’s not really an “alternative” to product placement, I guess, as much as it’s a supplement).

    I’d love to hear more about the contract work here, though — is this being classified as promotional, and hence required of all NBC actors? Do the actors get standard ad royalties added onto their pay through doing this? And why are we seeing Gomez in the ads, but not Zachary Levi or Yvonne Strahovski? Do they have some contractual immunity to this, or is NBC simply being wise (a rare move for them these days!) by experimenting with their supporting cast so that if viewers revolt their stars’ images don’t suffer? Any sense of the answers, Erin?

    • Erin Copple Smith on May 3, 2010 at 9:18 AM

      The Chuck ads were great, I agree…or at least better than these Turbo Tax ads. (For those of you who never saw them–here’s a link to one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KP6mHh-un0 )

      The ins & outs of the contracting ultimately come down to an issue of licensing arrangements/agreements. In the instance of using the Chuck stars, for example, NBC would have to pay WB Productions (who produces the series) a licensing fee for the use of their stars, since the promotions benefit both NBC (Olympics) and Honda, but aired during Chuck, and thus are not really promotions for Chuck. Rather, NBC & Honda are hoping to capitalize on the existing Chuck audience by using the already-beloved stars as shills for the ad.

      In the case of stars of shows produced by NBC, my guess would be that such licensing fees would be waived in the interest of suiting the greater good, though I have no proof of that.

      As for the conspicuous absence of “bigger” stars (as in Zachary Levi, as you note, or even Joel McHale in the Community-borrowing ad above), I honestly am not sure. My guess would be that the bigger stars have tighter contracts and/or higher fees for this kind of thing. I’ll have to nose around and see what kind of answers I can produce.

  2. Cynthia Meyers on May 2, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    What’s old is new again! Integrating talent into advertisement and advertisement into programming recalls radio era advertising strategies. Of course, today the increased use of integration reflects the anxiety of advertisers, worried about how to gain the wandering attention of viewers with too many other options. In the radio era, when audiences had fewer entertainment options, integration was used more as a technique for warding off audience alienation. Advertisers then and now hope audiences feel it isn’t so painful to attend to the ad because it’s part of the show! It’s probably safe to say that the distinction between ad (or in today’s lingo, brand management) and program content will continue to erode.

    By the way, about ten years ago didn’t Viacom trumpet a big crossplatform media selling program that fizzled? Sometime after that the word “synergy” lost its luster. The benefits of conglomeration have always been more obvious to the conglomerates selling the media space/time than to the advertisers buying the media. I would argue that advertisers today won’t be any more interested in crossplatforming within one conglomerate than they were ten years ago. Advertisers’ audiences are everywhere and are not easily captured by one conglomerate. Any cost efficiencies from a multiplatform buy at NBCU may be penny wise but pound foolish!

    • Erin Copple Smith on May 3, 2010 at 9:28 AM

      Excellent points, Cynthia, and of course you’re right that everything old is new again. (My own Antenna bio notes that I enjoy studying “new” ad techniques…or the techniques ad agencies seem to think they’ve created but are really just variations on a theme!)

      I think the interesting thing about this ISM campaign is that it seems to want to offer a little bit of everything–broad-spectrum ads across the conglomerate holdings and also semi-targeted packages (as in the case of NBC’s claim to offer female viewers, as well as environmentally-conscious and/or health-conscious audiences). Whether or not the advertisers will buy it is a completely separate question.

      But the most important thing NBC wants to offer, to my mind, is an additional opportunity to create “value-added” options to the media package, like the Turbo Tax sweepstakes, etc. My recent interviews with industry folks have all indicated that the hottest thing going right now are these types of “extras”–think, for example, of the Toyota-sponsored “Bones Blips” on Bones. (Not an NBC show, but you’ll get the idea…here’s an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v8Zcj5v1LY )

      Perhaps, when you package crossplatform campaign opportunities WITH inclusion of stars WITH value-added extras, the ISM will prove irresistible to ad buyers. Or perhaps advertisers will roll their eyes and move elsewhere. Only time will tell, but it’s an interesting strategy!

      • Cynthia Meyers on May 3, 2010 at 2:39 PM

        Yes, the smell of desperation is in the air, isn’t it?

        Wonder what advertisers will eventually “value”? They’re slowly giving up on program eyeballs, maybe even commercial eyeballs. They say they want new metrics, but what?

        Isn’t this so much fun, watching huge institutional structures writhe in the convulsions of change?

        Fantasy project: analyzing relationship of NBC & advertisers in 1928, 1948, 1988, 2008–snapshots of major transitions…Do I hear a conference panel?

        Thanks Erin, please keep posting so we can have front row seats to this show!

        • Erin Copple Smith on May 3, 2010 at 3:21 PM

          Those are good questions, Cynthia! I don’t think even advertisers know what they want, honestly. They just want…something. It’s definitely fun watching institutions wrestle with change!

          And that’s a great conference panel…hmm…

  3. Amanda "Post-Network" Lotz on May 3, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    One thing I find interesting is how poorly these strategies fit in with the typical upfront process. While not touted in the trade press with a fancy acronym, these deals were going on when I observed in 2005 (I remember talks about working a sandwich company into an episode of The Office). Given the way the upfronts have worked, a lot of the creative is pretty hypothetical and bare bones idea. I can’t imagine there is the time to check the viability of licensing etc. What is a bit different is the further blending of cable and broadcast buying–which makes particular sense for NBCU/Kabletown, although NBCU has relied on this considerably in the last years as their broadcast value has been in decline. It is becoming less possible to talk about these as separate markets. Not sure what the big picture complication of that might be, but it definitely should skew historical comparisons.

    • Erin Copple Smith on May 3, 2010 at 1:05 PM

      Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about the continual blurring of broadcast and cable over the weekend, Amanda. It’s clear that NBCU has been doing this sort of thing for awhile (as my own Turbo Tax example from 2009 shows), and that it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon. Because NBCU has plentiful, diverse and successful cable channels, I really do think they’re able to offer something no other conglomerate or broadcast outlet can, as far as these types of integrated marketing deals go. And from an advertisers’ perspective, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be useful and profitable to think about packaging broadcast and cable ad buys together, as the lines get blurrier and blurrier.

      I’m still thinking about it, obviously, but it’s precisely the combination of apparently-simple-yet-actually-complex that gets me excited about studying the media industries.