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As ABC News Covers An Eclipse, Mitsubishi Hopes to Sell One (or More)

When ABC News on Monday covers the first total solar eclipse to be visible in America in 38 years, one supporter hopes viewers won’t avert their eyes.

Mitsubishi Motors North America, which has long manufactured a model of car called the Eclipse, will use a two-hour special report planned by ABC for next Monday as a platform to promote its all-new Eclipse Cross. In addition to putting the 2018 crossover vehicle on TV for the first time during ABC’s broadcast that day of “Good Morning America,” the automotive marketer will serve as the exclusive sponsor of “The Great American Eclipse,” a special that will play on ABC between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. instead of the network’s regular daytime programming.  During the event, viewers will get to see Mitsubishi photographers trying to get a shot of the Eclipse alongside the eclipse in Salem, Oregon – a task NASA estimates they will have just one minute and 57 seconds to accomplish.

The eclipse was simply too opportune to ignore, said Francine Harsini, senior director, marketing, of Mitsubishi Motors North America, in an interview.  “It’s a great opportunity,” she said. While traditional TV commercials remain important, she noted, a marketer can no longer rely on them to the exclusion of other ideas. “A 30-second spot no longer gets you the buzz,” she added. “We need to be able to break through and step out of convention.”

Mitsubishi’s desire to drive into ABC’s news coverage is emblematic of new efforts by many Madison Avenue regulars eager to find new ways to stand out to viewers who are increasingly able to use technology to ignore traditional advertising. As viewers skip the usual coterie of 15- and 30-second commercials that interrupt the programs to which they flock, advertisers have pressed for new ways to stitch their promotions within the programming. The techniques at play are less overt than the usual instances of product placement that surface in various TV shows. In these instances, advertisers seek very specific links to storylines, themes and characters and try to tie their pitches to those elements.  In 2014, for example, Walmart supported a live broadcast of the play “Peter Pan” on NBC by running commercials that echoed the action from the portion of the play that had just aired (they also feature Tinker Bell).

Mitsubishi has tried to cultivate a sense of youth and adventure, said Harsini, by sponsoring events like Discovery Channel’s 2013 telecast of daredevil Nik Wallenda walking across a river gorge on a highwire, and by aligning itself with specific personalities, like “Good Morning America” meteorologist Ginger Zee. “She really does respond to that idea of design and style and element of adventure” that Mitsubishi wants, said Harsini.

Others have latched on to the coming eclipse as a marketing opportunity. Volvo Cars is sponsoring CNN’s efforts to live-stream the natural wonder with virtual reality and 360-degree cameras stationed at a number of locations across the country. The interactive experience is designed to give people a real-time view of the event, and some of the live-streams will contain promotional content from Volvo and highlight the company’s XC60 model, which comes outfitted with a 360-degree camera.

ABC is seeking more chances to show advertisers it can launch commercials that are “meaningful in the moment,” said Debra O’Connell, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Disney ABC Television Group, in an interview.  “It’s really important in today’s day and age that we can show we are very nimble,”  she added.

Indeed, Mitsubishi had originally planned to film its “two eclipses” idea n its own and send out the result via social and digital media, said Harsini. But ABC began last month reaching out to media-buying agencies – including Mitsubishi’s agency, Omnicom Group’s PHD – to see if advertisers might want to support its coverage of next week’s phenomenon. “We jumped on it,” said Harsini, who noted the whole thing really came together over the last week and a half.

ABC will air five custom ads during “Great American Eclipse,” which will be anchored by David Muir in Charleston, South Carolina. Since the eclipse will be visible first from parts of the western U.S., Mitsubishi photographers will work to capture “Eclipse-on-eclipse” work that can then be shown to viewers tuning in during the early afternoon on the east coast.  The work will have more relevance to viewers than the usual shots of a car running alongside a highway. “We will have a lot of people coming to the set or the live-stream at their home or office or on the go,” said O’Connell.

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