Dramatized Ads Weave Plot Lines Around Products

desperateHW-bigIn television’s latest quest to discourage viewers from skipping ads, actors from NBC and ABC shows are appearing in character in commercials to interact with products in parallel story lines. This new kind of commercial further blurs the line between program and advertisement and comes as traditional product placements within shows, an early response to fast-forwarding, have become common.

A series of spots that debuted this week weaves Palm Inc.‘s Pre phone more deeply into the story line of two prime-time dramas.

In a “mini-mystery” called “Another Desperate Housewife,” an extra from ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” suspects her husband is cheating after checking his Pre. A voice-over refers to Sprint’s wireless data network, as the phone is offered exclusively through Sprint Nextel Corp. in the U.S.: “This is suspicion, on The Now Network.”

Along its eight-week run, a few dramatic twists and turns will be revealed — over the phone, of course.

Sprint also has a “Heroes” series of dramatized ads on NBC that follows new character Lydia, who is able to identify faces in the shape-shifting tattoos on her body. She uses the Pre to find her daughter, who also has a heroic power.

“It’s definitely groundbreaking for ABC and NBC,” said Denise Ocasio, managing partner of MindShare, the marketing firm that helped Sprint create the spots. “It’s not a commercial. It looks and feels and has all the drama and excitement of the show. It is an entertainment experience. It’s just brought to you by Sprint.”

But not everyone is pleased. Peter Horton, executive producer of the short-lived NBC drama “The Philanthropist,” said he would hesitate to have another such ad on one of his shows. He said a dramatized vignette featuring the assistant and bodyguard of the show’s main character using Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine to look up things online was confusing to viewers because it sometimes introduced a competing plot line.

“I understand the desire financially by networks and producers,” Horton said. “I do think it’s at the expense of the viewing experience, I really do.”

Microsoft was happier with the results. Danielle Tiedt, a marketing general manager at Microsoft, said the ads did “a great job” of boosting understanding and awareness of Bing.

Networks want to convince advertisers that coupling such creative shorts with a fleet of traditional ads improves the effectiveness of the commercials at a time marketing budgets are being slashed. Such innovation is critical as more consumers fast-forward through ads, easily accomplished with digital video recorders.

“It’s a different environment and the rules have changed and we have to change with them,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research at General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal.

When DVRs, and thus ad-skipping, started gaining popularity, there was a sense that broadcasters were doomed, Wurtzel said. But people still watch TV commercials, as long as they’re not bad, irritating or repetitive. Another development two years ago also gave broadcasters the push to keep audiences tuned in during commercials: Instead of basing ad rates on a TV show’s audience ratings, they were set on the number of people watching commercials.

“As a result, cable and broadcast companies are much more interested in making sure they maintain as much of the audience in the commercial break as much as possible,” said David Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS Corp. “That is creating a lot of integrated advertising.”

CBS has run its own version of integrated commercials that refer to a show’s developments. Last fall the network ran a series of vignettes featuring Lara Spencer, the host of “The Insider,” during its Monday night comedy block. As she cooked with Bertolli Italian food products, she talked about plot twists in the shows.

The plots in such hybrid ads, for now, aren’t integral to the main story line, and viewers still could easily skip them without losing anything. In a sense, it’s much like Web shorts and cell-phone “mobisodes” meant to sustain interest among die-hard fans without alienating viewers who only tune in to prime time.

But such ads won’t replace traditional 30-second spots completely.

In audience surveys conducted by Nielsen IAG, hybrid ads that incorporate some kind of content from the surrounding show are, on average, better remembered. However, they are more powerful when used in combination with a traditional ad, which drives purchases with discount information and buying instructions.

“The traditional ad is really still doing the heavy lifting of getting the benefits of the brand across,” said David Kaplan, senior vice president of research at Nielsen IAG.

Product Review

Google’s Pixel 3 is a hair away from pocket-sized perfection

Google’s Pixel 3 smartphone is the best Android phone you can buy. It doesn’t have the best looks or the best hardware, but you’ll be hard pressed to find better software and unique A.I. functionalities.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Social Media

Facebook is rolling out a Messenger ‘unsend’ feature, and here’s how to use it

Facebook is starting to roll out a "remove message" feature for its Messenger app. It lets you delete a message in a thread within 10 minutes of sending it, and replaces it with a note telling recipients that it's been removed.
Mobile

You can now message businesses straight through Google Maps

Google has been updating Maps with a ton of new features over the past few months, and now it's back with another one -- the ability for users to message businesses directly through the Maps app.
Mobile

Google rolls out Night Sight to Pixel 3 and 3 XL camera app

Google's latest flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, are now official and we have all the details from the October 9 event in New York City and Paris. Here's everything we know about the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Mobile

No cash. No talking. What goes next? Welcome to your ‘app-tive’ digital life

Bank of America's 2018 Trends in Consumer Mobility Report found mobility has changed our lives. Mobile tech influences how most of us communicate, meet people, build relationships, and handle money as we move toward a cashless society.
Mobile

The Motiv smart ring is coming to 20 more countries and physical stores

Remember Motiv's activity tracking smart ring? It's back with a raft of new features that adds biometric identification and token authentication, all on a device that fits on your finger.
Wearables

Everything you need to know about Garmin’s GPS watches and trackers

Garmin jumped into the GPS smartwatch and fitness tracker market five years ago and has built a portfolio of devices that rivals competitor Fitbit. Here's your guide to the latest and greatest fitness devices that Garmin has to offer.
Mobile

Sharp doubles down on the notch trend with Aquos R2 Compact

As if one notch wasn't enough, Japanese manufacturer Sharp unveiled a new smartphone that has two -- one teardrop style notch at the top, and a bigger notch at the bottom. Here's what the world's first dual-notch smartphone looks like.
Mobile

Verizon has made its first 5G video call … with a phone that’s already out

Verizon has announced that it has successfully made its first video call, using a smartphone that's already available: The Motorola Moto Z3. To make the call, Verizon used the 5G Moto Mod.
Mobile

Samsung patents show what Infinity-O display could look like on Galaxy S10

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.