Series get serious about selling

Latin America shows grow savvy on product placement

Product placement is king in Latin American television as the industry gets savvier about its use.

In the three most important markets — Argentina, Mexico and Brazil — there has not only been an uptick in the practice, but also better integration into scripts.

With telenovelas exported widely across the globe, multinational advertisers are keen to arrange product placement deals.

For broadcasters, of course, there is sound economic sense in encouraging such pacts. Still, blatant plugs on talk/variety shows are giving way to more subtle inserts in skeins.

On Disney’s Latino remake of “Desperate Housewives,” (Amas de Casas Desesperadas) on Argentina’s Artear TV, six companies have props blended in subtly and not so subtly, including Nivea, Poett cleaning products, Personal/Telecom cell phones and Disco supermarket.

“Since we’re dealing with pre-written scripts, we are limited on the number of products we can insert,” says Paul Kirzner, marketing director at Pol-ka, co-producer of “Amas.”

Product placement, while entrenched in Argentina, gained greater importance after the 2001-02 economic collapse and attendant currency devaluation. With ad coin down, broadcasters had to cut the amount they paid programming producers from 100% to 50%-65% of production costs. As part of these deals, producers were left with the task of selling product placement. In general, 20% of production coin now comes from product and script placement.

The practice has spread to other countries. Until recently, Mexico’s numero uno web, Televisa, had been rather inflexible about tweaking its telenovela scripts to meet advertisers’ demands, leaving advertisers focused on traditional spot ads, says Miguel Angel Pena at Universal McCann, Mexico City. But advertisers have been realizing the value of good product placement while Televisa is seeking to cut the amount of commercial time it has per hour.

Product integration in telenovelas and other programs continues to grow exponentially in Brazil since the first such instance, in 1973, in market leader Globo TV’s sudser “Cavalo de Aco” (Steel Horse). Many top advertisers have used Globo’s telenovelas and even variety/talk shows, such as Globo’s “Domingao do Faustao,” where host Faustao grabs a soda and remarks on its refreshing qualities. Globo, not the host, gets paid for this blatant plug.

While Globo enjoys the lion’s share of the ad market (75%) and auds (55%), other TV nets are tussling over the scraps. No. 3 net TV Record has been investing heavily in inhouse productions since 2004 in its bid to narrow the gap with No. 2 net SBT, which mainly relies on imports.

Talk/variety shows such as “Showmatch” in Argentina continue to have their hosts tout a variety of products, while product placement is especially big on youth-targeted telenovelas.

“Kids accept product placement a lot more than adults. The actors can drink a Coke during a scene or make a pizza with Blancaflor flour,” says Victor Gonzalez, prexy of Argentine shingle RGB Entertainment, a major producer of youth Latino sudsers such as Cinderella tale “Floricienta.”

“As long as the integration is done well, both young and adult viewers accept them,” Kirzner says.

In Mexico, teen telenovela-turned-multimedia monster “Rebelde” has been an advertiser’s dream. Around 200 advertisers paid to have their products ingested, applied or coddled by the teen cast during the three back-to-back seasons. Show ran an unprecedented integrated placement every half-hour on average, says Televisa commercial sales VP Alejandro Quintero. For example, the wild redhead character Roberta persuades several of her friends to dye their hair using L’Oreal’s Garnier 100% (dyeing her hair an intense red was part of the actress Dulce Maria’s contract).

Televisa’s remake of Colombian telenovela “Yo soy Betty la Fea,” renamed “La Fea Mas Bella,” switched the original setting from a modeling agency to an advertising agency. This allowed for integrating more brands into the storyline. For example, ad man Luigi Lombardi developed an entire campaign for L’Oreal as part of the show’s plot. The fictionally designed campaign then was launched in reality in Mexico.

“While Televisa has been a pioneer of old-style product placement, it has only recently begun to write scripts that provide more subtle placement and say the things the advertiser wants,” says Universal McCann’s Pena. Producers are now working directly with the advertisers’ marketing departments.

Currently, 10% of Televisa’s ad sales are product placement sales; Quintero aims to get that up to 20%.

The future in Mexico will be in advertiser-sponsored productions of shows that have been entirely developed with a specific advertiser in mind. Televisa is developing several dramatic series for 2007 that will be fully sponsored by multi-brand companies.

“We’re looking to reach more sophisticated audiences than are reached by our traditional mass offering,” Quintero says.

In Brazil, TV Record has been emulating Globo’s lead, even setting up production facilities close to Globo’s in the western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. To offset costs, it has recently beefed up its product placement efforts within its telenovelas, starting with “Prova de Amor” (Proof of Love), which ended its run in July. Telenovela had 44 product placements, says TV Record merchandising director Marcus Vinicius Chisco.

Even period telenovelas have not escaped. “Cidadao Brasileiro” (Scars), now on the air, is set in the past, making it somewhat more difficult to place any items. Nevertheless TV Record has inked a major deal with Bradesco, Brazil’s leading private bank.

On TV Record’s Brazilian version of “The Apprentice,” Roberto Justus, prexy of local ad and PR group NewComm, is the local Donald Trump. The reality show has become a natural setting for a slew of product placements, but it has gone beyond the norm by having candidates perform tasks that highlight company brands, just as the U.S. version did. For example, contenders prepared a marketing campaign for Fiat’s new model, Adventure. The program’s growing infomercial look doesn’t seem to have turned off viewers, although ratings were never huge because of TV Record’s No. 3 status.

TV Record is mulling a fourth season, although Justus is said to be unwilling to sign up for another round.

(Charles Newbery in Buenos Aires, Michael O’Boyle in Mexico City and Marcelo Cajueiro in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report. )

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