October 5th, 2007

New Ads Take On TiVo

By Suzanne Vranica
Wall Street Journal

Tie-Ins to TV Shows Aim to Prevent Fast-Forwarding

During the broadcast of its program “Mythbusters” last spring, Discovery Channel ran a brief ad for Guinness beer designed to echo the theme of the program, which uses science to test the validity of urban legends. One character in the ad asked another whether it was a “myth that Guinness only has 125 calories.” After he is told the calorie count was accurate, a voiceover says: “‘Mythbusters,’ sponsored by Guinness.”

The spot represented a new kind of TV ad, one that ties the content of the ad into the surrounding program. It’s aimed at stopping people with TiVo-like devices from fast-forwarding through commercial breaks. Whether it achieves that objective isn’t yet clear. But it turns out the new approach can achieve another long-sought goal of marketers: improving the recall of viewers who did see the spot.

Viewers who saw the Guinness ad on “Mythbusters” remembered the name of the Guinness brand 41% more often than they did when they saw a traditional Guinness ad, according to a study by IAG Research, a New York firm that measures viewer response to TV programs and ads, and sells its research to marketers, agencies and networks.

Other program-tie-in ads, called “hybrids” on Madison Avenue, delivered similar results, according to IAG, which evaluated the performance of more than 1,000 “hybrid” ads by surveying half a million viewers over the past year. Overall, the ads generated about 30% higher brand recall than traditional ads for the same product, IAG found. Participants in the survey logged onto IAG’s Web site and answered questions about shows and ads they had watched within the previous 24 hours; by answering, they earn points they can apply toward prizes. Participants weren’t asked if they skipped ads using digital-video-recorder technology.

Tie-in ads have taken off over the past 18 months as TV executives rethink the decades-old commercial format, hoping to stop marketers from shifting ad dollars to the Internet. Helping drive the experimentation is the introduction of commercial ratings by Nielsen Media Research, which measure viewership levels during commercial breaks rather than just during the program. Advertisers are now buying ad time based on the new ratings.

Several major networks have worked with advertisers on tie-in ads. General Electric’s NBC has run ads featuring trivia games during game shows. Fox has aired Verizon ads during its now-canceled drama “The O.C.” that told consumers they could get exclusive “O.C” content using their Verizon phone.

For advertisers trying to figure out how to make their commercials stand out from the clutter of other marketing messages, the survey results provide some clues. Instead of running the same ad repeatedly across the TV schedule, marketers may need to customize their spots a little more.

“The fact that these ads are gaining higher recall scores may actually fuel the use of hybrid ads,” said Alan Gould, co-chief executive of IAG. He notes, however, that it’s unclear how easy it is for advertisers to scale up their use of hybrid ads. Tweaking each ad for every program in which it airs can quickly become expensive.

And the highest recall appeared to flow from the most elaborate tie-in efforts. Garmin International, the makers of car satellite-navigation devices, got high marks for a live-to-air ad that ran during the “Tonight Show” in June involving both Tonight Show host Jay Leno and his announcer, John Melendez. According to IAG, 44% of those polled were able to recall the name of the Garmin brand after seeing the ad. Only 23% of viewers in IAG’s survey pool typically recall traditional Garmin ads, IAG has found.

IAG says one of the highest-scoring hybrid formulas is CW network’s “Content Wraps,” commercial breaks designed to look like a minishow built around products. Typical was a wrap for Herbal Essences, a hair-product line owned by Procter & Gamble, that ran during “America’s Next Top Model” last year and showed the product being used as part of a consumer makeover. More than 40% of those polled were able to recall the name of the brand; only 28% of the online panelists could remember the brand after seeing a traditional Herbal Essences ad.

The results are a boon for CW, which has already said its own research showed the content wraps were skipped less often than traditional ads.

Still, not all the unique ads have worked. The survey shows that 22% of the new types of ads studied didn’t work, meaning TV viewers got the name of the brand wrong.

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