Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Peacock to harness social media to let fans devise jokes in effort aimed at keeping viewers from clicking away

Some of the most interesting comedy taking place during Thursday’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” may occur during its commercial breaks.

In an intriguing ploy meant to harness both TV advertising and social media, NBC will allow Lexus to run a live commercial in two different ad breaks accompanying the show. In the first, set to run early in the program, improv comics will ask viewers to come up with interesting ideas for an ad featuring the automaker’s Lexus IS, a vehicle designed to compete with sportier luxury sedans. By the final ad break of Thursday’s “Fallon,” a new commercial will appear, incorporating an improv performance by the comedians based on suggestions made on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

NBC said the unorthodox commercials, which will be identified under the rubric “It’s Your Move After Dark,” will continue to run Thursdays during the “Fallon” program for four weeks, and will be broadcast live from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. The ads will be performed by New York-based improvisational comedy troupes including Fun Young Guys, Magnet Theater Touring Company, MB’s Dream and Stone Cold Fox. NBC will drum up attention for the effort with a 15-second teaser ad expected to run Wednesday evening during its latenight programming.

Commercials for years have been as canned as the Spam and soda they promote. Now, with digital video recorders and online streaming siphoning audience away from the tube,  networks have slowly tested efforts that could transform ads into more attractive properties for viewers prone to wander. Social media, which allows the average couch potato to offer opinions on anything on the screen in the flash of a moment, has lent the attempts some momentum.

Consider, for example, a recent effort by Oreo, the popular cookie owned by Mondelez Intl., to stay relevant during CBS’ troubled broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII in February. When the power at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome went out right after halftime, causing the Eye all manner of logistical issues, Oreo threw up a humorous post on Twitter: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” Within an hour, users had retweeted the post 10,000 times.

The idea is to transform a TV commercial once meant to bark out a message to millions of people into a timely, can’t-miss experience for a select group of viewers involved in a specific activity – like watching “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

NBC has tested concepts in the past that may have informed the Lexus idea. In 2009, NBC let Home Depot run longer-than-usual segments in ad breaks that contained weekend weather forecasts for specific geographic regions. The idea was to suggest how Home Depot could help viewers make the most of their time off, and in many cases required weather forecasters to tape their predictions in the afternoon leading up to when the ads were slated to run. In some cases, a forecaster from the Weather Channel, in which NBCUniversal is an investor, offered a regional weekend forecast. In others, a weather personality from one of 50 NBC local affiliate stations discussed whether sun or clouds would be prevalent on Saturdays.

At its foundation, the Lexus commercials offer to tell viewers a story while letting them affect the ending. The concept offers a new twist on an old idea once known as a “show-mercial.” In 2004, Procter & Gamble bought up enough ad time during a series of Friday-night summer movies on Lifetime to run a series of three two-minute segments showing women getting makeovers with products made by the company’s Crest, CoverGirl, Clairol, Pantene and Olay brands. When the CW launched in 2006, the idea had evolved into something called a “content wrap”: During CW programs such as “America’s Next Top Model,” Procter & Gamble’s Herbal Essences ran two-minute segments – 90 seconds for a newsy vignette showing the product in action or a quick hit of fashion and celebrity news, and 30 seconds for a traditional ad – aimed to keep viewers sitting in front of the TV for the advertising that interrupted their program.

“By utilizing social and broadcast media simultaneously, ‘It’s Your Move After Dark’ breaks the traditional commercial mold and showcases the all-new IS in an entirely unique and DVR-proof way,” said Brian Bolain, Lexus corporate manager of marketing communications, in a prepared statement. Lexus is owned by Toyota Motor, which in the past has been one of NBC’s biggest advertisers.

The advent of talk-back venues like Twitter and Facebook now gives advertisers the opportunity to keep their commercials going after the show they accompany draws to an end. NBC said it will make available comedy and submissions from the Lexus commercials on a digital hub at NBC.com the day after each live broadcast.

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