With just weeks to go before Madison Avenue opens its billion-dollar purse-strings in support of TV as part of the industry’s annual upfront market, NBCUniversal is trying to show how far it will go to win that money.
The Comcast-owned media giant is unveiling a campaign for Chrysler’s Pacifica automobile that doubles as a promotional effort for the July release of the animated film “The Secret Life of Pets” from its Universal Pictures unit. The initiative, which kicks off this morning during NBC’s “Today” morning show, will continue through July and make use of everything from late-night host Seth Meyers and his dog, Frisbee, to efforts by Vox Media and BuzzFeed, two trendy digital-media outlets in which NBCUniversal invested $200 million each last year.
“We are continuing to be innovative and push beyond what we own to deliver maximum value to clients,” said Alison Tarrant, executive vice president for client partnerships at NBCUniversal, in an interview.
NBCU has reason to blow Chrysler’s horn. The coming upfront market is expected to be one of the healthiest in four years, with advertisers committing more dollars to the medium’s next slate of programming after years of trimming spend in favor of supporting new venues like social media and streaming video. To win their money, however, TV networks need to demonstrate they can mix traditional “linear” TV with new media formats and still bring the mass audiences advertisers say they crave. Ad buyers acknowledge more money will show up in the market, but make plain that winning the ad cash is by no means a fait accompli.
“We can’t keep doing the same things, keep putting money back when eyeballs are moving off of TV,” said one ad-buying executive with knowledge of conversations leading to the upfront. To woo advertisers who see falling ratings, this buyer said, TV networks “are going to have to show they can add value to the conversation.”
NBCU has placed more emphasis in recent years on trying to sell broader ad packages across all of its TV networks, rather than highlighting its NBC broadcast outlet over its cable and digital holdings. The theory has been that NBCU can get marketers to earmark more ad money if it cobbles together deals that encompass anything from NBC to Telemundo to the Chiller cable network. To emphasize that more strongly to advertisers, NBCU this year will hold an upfront presentation that focuses on its entire portfolio, not on NBC or its cable offerings, as it has done for the past several years. It’s the second time NBCU has tried such an idea, after offering a walk through an “experience” in 2008 that nodded to everything from “American Gladiators” to Maria Bartiromo, then still a part of CNBC.
Other media companies are also touting so-called cross-platform sales, and more. Viacom has enlisted Snapchat and comScore to create new options for advertisers, while Discovery Communications is offering to place commercials in virtual-reality environments.
Starting today, NBCU will run video promotions featuring talent from the company’s programs on “Today,” Golf Channel, NBCSN, Sprout and USA Network. The vignettes will include shots of the Pacifica as well as animation from “The Secret Life of Pets,” the Universal feature that comes from Illumination Entertainment, which also produced the animated hit “Despicable Me.” Later this evening, NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” will feature a live ad for the campaign, as well as a separate piece of original content and the debut of a new trailer for the movie. Meyers’ dog will figure into the proceedings.
The campaign continues with three more videos that include both Meyers and the Chrysler automobile, which will air across the company’s networks and digital outlets. All the pieces and the “Pets” trailer will also be available on the NBCU-owned Fandango movie-ticketing site.
The company intends to press forward to find “more innovative ways to connect our clients’ brands with consumers,” said Tarrant, who cited Chrysler’s media buying agency, Interpublic Group’s Universal McCann, as an important participant in helping the deal come together.