Network engages in unique cross-promotions

USA Network marketing guru Chris McCumber calls them “promercials.”

The 30-second spots, which started running on the top-rated cabler in January, feature the stars of USA comedy series “Psych,” James Roday and Dule Hill, both in character, doing their usual bickering in front of a new Optima built by series automotive sponsor Kia.

Already one of the most aggressive product integrators in the TV business, USA is now putting its series into its clients’ commercials.

“We’ve worked with Nielsen on this, and our studies have shown that the viewer retention level is very high with these spots,” says McCumber.

Indeed, the top-rated cable network routinely ranks among the top 10 in “C3 retention,” which measures how much of the audience watched the channel’s commercials.

USA is involved in other types of unique co-promotions as well.

To launch the second season of its light spy thriller “Burn Notice” last year, for example, the cabler created the online vidgame “Covert Ops,” which was sponsored by General Motors. In the game, players assume the role of series lead Jeffrey Donovan and drive around in a Saab 9-3 convertible.

GM, which owns the Saab brand, got a rare bit of good news out of the co-promotion, with the game attracting 208,000 unique users, each averaging more than 10 minutes of play. And “Burn Notice,” which had been off the air for a year, spiked to basic cable’s highest adult-demo ratings in its second season.

“We work in partnership with the media agencies,” says McCumber, who was upped to exec VP of marketing and digital brand strategy for the NBC U-owned cable network last year. “We’ll sit down in a room for hours, and ask, ‘What are the characteristics of, for example, a Hoover vacuum, and how can we make that come to life?’ We put the product through our ‘Characters Welcome’ brand lens, and we’re able to come up with (commercials) that are more creative and customized than what you’re used to seeing.”

“Characters Welcome,” USA’s all-encompassing brand initiative, enables the net to pursue an aggressive, broad-based product-integration strategy without triggering a wide-scale viewer revolt, McCumber explains.

The theory goes like this: Immersed in a branding campaign that seeks to emphasize the characters beyond the mere plotlines of their respective series, the network’s viewers don’t become jarred when, say, they suddenly see “Psych’s” Shawn and Gus discussing their fondness for the Kia Optima’s sunroof.

“We’re not limited by a genre or a type of audience,” McCumber says. “Our brand is psychographic; it’s a state of mind. And instead of taking a brand and having to jam it in front of an audience, we can celebrate it in a way no one else can.”

USA is leading the entire basic cable realm right now in all key adult demos and also topping low-hanging broadcaster CW these days, so its aggressive product-integration strategy certainly hasn’t hurt its ratings.

And going into what could be the most competitive upfront in memory, McCumber believes it will only continue to help it garner advertisers.

“In challenging times, (ad) money is going to go to places that are doing it differently and truly partnering with the client,” he says.

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