Broadcast Nets Tackle Contextual Ads


Keith Mackay, evp, managing director of Optimedia, which is T-Mobile’s media agency, agrees that advertising on the broadcast networks can no longer only be about mass reach and that integrations need to be more pervasive. “We are looking to build contextual sponsorships on a regular basis,” he says. Another Optimedia client,—an online listing of vacation rentals worldwide—premiered its national advertising with a spot during the Super Bowl. Mackay says the agency is now working with the Travel Channel to develop entertaining contextual ad content.

Chrysler has been working with NBC to do a number of contextual ads. During the Golden Globe Awards, Chrysler ran six spots at the end of each ad pod leading back into the telecast that tied its cars into sponsoring the next award. NBC also created a contextual spot for Honda in which two characters from the sitcom Chuck traveled in a Honda car to the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic game, televised by NBC in January.

ABC actually enlisted Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry to write and direct an eight-minute contextual commercial miniseries (which ran as one-minute spots in consecutive weeks) sponsored by Sprint. Each spot contained part of an overall story about a wife who catches her husband cheating on her by using various features of a Sprint mobile phone.

“It’s the client’s commercial time, but it’s aligned with our shows, so it gives both of us promotional benefit,” says Jerry Daniello, ABC’s svp, integrated marketing. “It’s much more special than simple integration, and it makes the client’s product stand out more.”

Brian Terkelsen, president of MediaVest’s connective tissue, says, “Contextual advertising has been the premise of my entire business since 2003. The notion of reinventing advertising is to make it contextual.” Terkelsen adds, “If you don’t interrupt the viewers and keep the message in the wheelhouse of the show, the viewer will stay and watch it.”

In addition to its televising of the T-Mobile contextual spots, Turner Broadcasting in 2008 launched TVinContext, which offers advertisers an opportunity to run 30-second commercials adjacent to contextually relevant scenes from its movie library. Advertisers are placed in the A-pod position immediately following a contextually relevant scene. Stacey Lynn Schulman, svp of Turner ad sales and research, says advertisers like SC Johnson, OnStar and NY Life have already participated.

And on Feb. 24, TBS premiered a contextual microseries presented by Disney Parks that aired within Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns sitcom.

“Agencies have been trying to differentiate their clients and trying to get them to stand out for years,” says Schulman. “The networks are finally starting to offer opportunities to make that happen.”

Advertisers will pay a premium for placing their traditional :30s contextual locations in Turner’s TVinContext. And while advertisers also will have to foot the additional production costs for doing special custom-content contextual commercials, MediaVest’s Terkelsen believes the extra cost will still be worth it. “It will be more expensive for advertisers, but it will be more  effective,” he says.

And down the road, Terkelsen believes the more advertisers, agencies and networks that begin producing custom contextual spots, the more scalable it will become. “Whoever cracks that code first,” he says, “will have a big leg up on everyone.”