NBC is trying to juice up revenue by making custom commercials for marketers.
In an estimated $20 million campaign running throughout February, software brand TurboTax commercials mention nine NBC shows by name, including Heroes and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. NBC wrote, produced and shot the commercials that are themed to its shows and will run in ad breaks in those shows. The campaign is one of at least 20 planned in 2009 for NBC.
"We want to be the media company that pushes the envelope and tries things differently," says Mike Pilot, NBC's president of advertising sales.
In tough times, marketers are especially eager to experiment with innovative ways to offset the sharp drop in ad revenue. The move is also an attempt to offset the ongoing decline in ad viewing because of audience fragmentation and the growing use of recording devices such as TiVo.
The major broadcast networks — including Fox, CBS and ABC — all have tried similar moves, but NBC is moving more aggressively than most to make custom ads for marketers. By using its own team of writers and producers for the TurboTax campaign, NBC collects revenue for making the ads, media time for running the ads and gets to plug its own shows. By doing the work in-house, NBC has the potential to cut out the traditional Madison Avenue advertising agency but often includes them in the process.
"We met with a bunch of different folks, and NBC came to the table with the ability to work all across their properties," says David Kirven, director of brand strategy for TurboTax. "Other folks could not come up with the breadth of operations and doing it in a very coordinated fashion."
The ads are set in a TV viewer's home when NFL Network host Rich Eisen pops into the house. He pitches TurboTax and TV shows in the same breath.
For instance, in the ad that runs during Sci Fi's Ghost Hunters, he asks a couple: "Watching Ghost Hunters International?" He then goes on to tell them that their ghost-hunting equipment "would all be a write-off" and that TurboTax can help.
In the Millionaire Matchmaker ad, Eisen tells a young woman that medical costs, should she meet an elderly millionaire,could qualify for write-offs.
TurboTax has a 10-week marketing window between the time employees received W-2 forms at the end of January and the April 15 tax deadline.
NBC appears to be especially eager to open up shows and talent to advertisers. Last year, the network aired a Dodge tie-in for the new Ram truck that was included in The Office and My Name Is Earl. In the ads, Ram drivers sparred in trivia competitions about the two shows.
NBC recently teamed with Pepsi for ads that spoofed ongoing SNL skit MacGruber. In the ads, which first ran on Saturday Night Live and then on the Super Bowl, the character even changes his name to PepSuber.
ASK THE AD TEAM
Q: I have been trying like crazy to find the name of the actor in the Campbell Soup commercial who keeps saying, "Num yummy." In the ad, an office handyman tries to get the name of an office worker and returns with a nameplate that reads "num yummy." The actor then asks, "Who's num yummy?" when he sees the new nameplate. Who plays this guy?! I have seen other people online trying to find the answer to it as well and no one seems to know. Thanks. — Robin Quincy, Sylvania, Ohio
A: The character and actor both have names — neither of which is "num yummy." Ryan Gaul plays the role of Fippleman, a name created by ad agency Y&R in New York. Campbell Soup spokesman John Faulkner says the character is meant to be an "everyman" and that Gaul has been in Campbell's soup ads for three years, promoting the company's convenience line of soups. "Everyone liked the name. It was funny, and the actor really brought the character to life
Q: Help me understand the Sprint Wireless Revolution black-and-white ads with DanHesse. I don't get the look and feel of the ads. They are cold and depressing.What gives? —Dan Navarro, Lewisville, Texas
A: Sprint began airing those ads nearly a year ago, and CEO Dan Hesse has appeared in five. The newest was set to begin Sunday. In the ads, he promotes the company's Simply Everything plan that provides unlimited phone and data services for $99. The mood of the ads is intended to convey a serious tone that helps differentiate the brand amid ad clutter.
"One of the reasons why we went with black and white was that we wanted the ads to stand out as elegant and different. Most importantly, we wanted the focus to be on Dan and what he had to say," says Mike Goff, Sprint's vice president of national advertising.
Sprint says the campaign by Goodby Silverstein & Partners has helped raise awareness. But it appears that the campaign has done little to stem the loss of customers. In the third quarter, the company had a net loss of 1.3 million subscribers. Fourth-quarter results will be announced Thursday.