As headlines roll out on CNN in the hours leading up to New Year’s Eve, so too will Farmer’s Insurance.
The insurer’s logo will be spotted rotating on an on-screen CNN countdown clock slated to appear multiple times on December 31, says Michal Shapira, senior vice president of news content partnerships for Turner Ignite, part of AT&T’s Turner cable unit that includes CNN. “It’s going to be a high-impact placement,” she says, with the countdown clock appearing on CNN screens three times an hour for two minutes at a time. “This is a great way to get in front of a captive audience in particular during one of the year;s most anticipated cultural moments.” Farmers also intends to run “sequential’ commercial during the coverage that will gradually tell a bigger story.
The clock will first tell viewers how much time is left until CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve coverage with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen starts, and then reveal how much time is left until the famous ball drops in Times Square. After midnight, vodka-maker Ciroc will serve as the sponsor of an on-screen CNN “social feed” that displays comments from viewers as they talk about New Year celebrations.
CNN has attached advertisers to countdown clocks in the past, but not for New Year’s Eve. The on-screen element – which will also have a presence on CNN’s digital properties, giving a countdown tailored to the time zone in which it appears – offers a second-by-second reminder of how TV-news outlets are working to devise new ways of getting advertisers to take part in their programming, which in the past may have been a tougher sell.
CNN in October found a way to have a Mercedes-Benz logo appear on screen sponsoring a broadcast of its daytime “Newsroom.” But the graphic made clear the automaker was supporting the show, not some of the tough headlines with which it shared the screen. In other instances, the network has let advertisers sponsor “key race alerts” during the recent midterm election and offered “live billboard,” or live shots of a news studio with a brand logo superimposed on top of it as CNN goes into a commercial break. And it has offered to run fewer ads during programs anchored by Jake Tapper, the better to make the commercials that remain stand out more prominently. Fox News Channel has also enlisted a supporter for its New Year’s Eve coverage: Michigan’s Hillsdale College will serve as exclusive sponsor for the event.
In the past , such feats could be more difficult to pull off. Many advertisers in news programming do so with strict edicts in place that their pitches and logos not air during times of crisis or tragedy – which could happen in any given moment of a live broadcast. And yet, cable-news viewership has surged since the 2016 election. More people are watching at multiple times of day. What’s more, in an era when consumers increasingly turn to time-shifted streamed entertainment, live news represents a way for Madison Avenue to reach consumers when they aren’t able to toggle away from commercials.
The trick, says Shapria, is “to label things clearly and ensure there’s no confusion with our audience.” She has staff present at CNN around the clock who can stop commercial messages from appearing adjacent to programming should circumstances warrant.
Figuring out a way to take part in the programming, rather than interrupting it, is more paramount to advertisers eager to chase elusive consumers who often can avoid ads when they turn to streaming outlets. “New Year’s Eve is a time of year when many around the world come together to celebrate with family and friends,” says Ken Grayson, director of media marketing at Farmers Insurance. “We’re excited to share in this tradition by working with CNN to be the first-ever sponsor of their countdown clock, as well as provide viewers creative storytelling experiences, based on our experiences, that will air during ad breaks.”
More news outlets are embracing advertising techniques that might have been taboo in a different time. Newspapers have made increasing use of ads on their front pages and section fronts, for example. And local stations allow advertisers to sponsor sports segments, or even place a coffee cup with a logo on it on the anchor desk. “News companies can make reasonable compromises that they wouldn’t have made earlier,” says David Mindich, chairman of the department of journalism at Temple University and author of “Tuned Out: How Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News.”“The question for news organizations is whether small compromises—like anchors drinking branded beverages—helps it to deliver news more than it corrodes trust,” he adds.
CNN’s ongoing efforts come as it has attracted advertisers with which it once didn’t do much business. Movie studios have begun running more ads on the AT&T-owned outlet. And the network may be pressing an advantage its rivals don’t have. NBCUniversal’s MSNBC, for example, stopped running a news ticker in the lower-third of its screen last April, ostensibly to place more focus on its actual programming.
Without a flow of advertising revenue, there won’t be much TV news. “Putting advertising in programs is important,” says Lawrence Epstein, a professor at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and a former director of finance at CBS News. Even older viewers – who typically watch more TV news “know how to skip commercials,” he adds.
The practice, he says, is likely to expand. “We are very used to seeing ads in sports and certain news segments like weather and traffic,” he says. “Nobody thinks the weather forecast is biased because it’s sponsored.” Viewers will need to watch closely to see how the interplay between news and commercials continues to develop.