Get ready for another surprise on Adult Swim, the network that counts an anthropomorphic talking milkshake and hillbilly mud squids as members of its eyebrow-raising program lineup.
The Time Warner network intends to turn over its “bug,” the logo it features in the lower-right hand corner of the screen, to certain advertisers. The sales foray takes place as part of the “upfront” market, the annual session when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their inventory for the coming year.
“It’s going to be very limited,” said Joe Hogan, executive vice president of young-adult ad sales for Time Warner’s Turner unit. “Everything we do on the network is done in a unique, surprising and interesting way and if we did this a lot, I think it would take away from it. It’s going to be thoughtful and deliberate, but it is not going to be something that is common on the network. It would be more uncommon.” He expected advertiser logos to turn up during programming “probably weekly but not daily.”
In doing so, Adult Swim is making available some of the most precious real estate available on the TV screen. Dozens of TV networks use “bugs” – think the CBS Eye or the ABC “glass marble” – as a way to remind viewers what outlet they are watching. The logos also serve as subtle reminders of which network is behind the programming that got fans to tune in the first place. Giving over that space to a sponsor means reducing the amount of time, in some sense, the network spends talking about itself.
Adult Swim’s outreach illustrates how much pressure advertisers have come under since the advent of technologies that allow consumers to ignore their pitches. Digital video-recorders let fans skip past commercials and people who use new digital methods of “streaming” programs can find ample ways to distract themselves when a commercial interrupts their entertainment.
Other TV networks have experimented with such stuff. In 2011, Fox let DirecTV take over a bottom corner of the screen during dinosaur drama “Terra Nova” to tell viewers the series’ high-definition broadcast was sponsored by the satellite company. And the CW let Microsoft “inhabit” its logo, for lack of a better term. The tech company was allowed to tell viewers CW programs were something to “Bing About,” a play on the “TV to Talk About:” and “TV To Text About” slogans that were part of the network’s promotional stane at the time.
But Adult Swim is taking things further: It will basically allow advertisers to run their own logos on screen, and will not require that its own identifying remarks remain.
The idea, said Hogan, is to sell a “package” of new advertising techniques. In addition to getting a logo placed on screen during programming in a subtle way, the advertiser also is incorporated into a video snippet called an “Insta-Vine” that features seconds-long scenes of outer space or countryside. That snippet would appear just after the end of a program segment and before traditional ads start to roll. As part of the pact, the advertiser would also get the first ad in the accompanying commercial break.
The move is part of an effort to find new ways to let advertisers gain access to the network’s desirable young audience while continuing to “surprise and delight” viewers, said Hogan, the ad-sales executive.
Adult Swim took pains to research its idea before putting it into action, Hogan said. Adult Swim enlisted Innerscope Research, a Boston company that analyzes the physical reactions of TV viewers to what they see on screen. According to the research, nearly all of the participants in a study found the on-air logos subtle and not distracting.
What’s more, viewers who saw the sponsored bug during the program also looked at the same advertiser’s brand logos and taglines in adjacent commercial spots for a significantly longer duration. About 24% of people who saw an ad and an on-screen logo together remembered the name of the sponsor, compared with 18% who watched a traditional commercial without seeing a sponsored bug during an accompanying program.
One ad executive is intrigued by the idea. “We know that consumers are more and more difficult to reach and if I can somehow put my brand in a place where I know they are paying attention,” then there’s appeal, said John Moore, chief media officer at Mullen, a Boston ad agency owned by Interpublic Group. Even so, said Moore, the technique could be “tricky, risky” if the consumer is distracted by it.
He would prefer to find ways to put the logo on screen at an appropriate moment of a program, like a logo for a fast food chain at a time when characters are talking about being hungry. Through a Turner spokeswoman, Hogan indicated the company was open to such discussions.