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In Ad Pact, Procter & Gamble Buys Dialogue, Plot on ABC’s ‘Black-ish’

Procter & Gamble makes products like Tide and the Swiffer that help consumers clean up their homes. Now the large advertiser is paying ABC to polish the plotline on one of its most popular sitcoms.

In a unique advertising pact, the characters in “black-ish” will talk about a two-minute film Procter & Gamble released last year to spotlight the discussions black parents have with their children to prepare them for racial bias. The short film, “The Talk,” sparked debate when it debuted in July of 2017, and is emblematic of how major marketers are embracing causes and trends in an effort to align with consumers who have grown increasingly resistant to traditional commercials that shovel sales talk into lives that are already busy.

P&G’s appearance in “black-ish” could raise eyebrows as well. Many ad deals that call for the integration of an advertising message into a program usually result in a particular product making an appearance in a scene, or being mentioned by a character. Pepsi achieved this to noticeable effect in 2015 when it worked with Fox to line-up a three-episode story arc in the drama “Empire” all about how one character worked to create a song for a Pepsi ad campaign.  But Tuesday’s “black-ish” episode will instead feature a plot centered on an issue that the advertiser is trying to burnish. Characters like Anthony Anderson’s  Dre Johnson, a father who is an advertising executive eager to pass his cultural values on to his children, will make reference to “The Talk” as part of an effort to underscore how people from different backgrounds can find common ground.

“The ‘black-ish’ series has a successful history of tackling real life issues and addressing them in relatable ways within its episodes,” said Rita Ferro, president of ad sales at Disney/ABC Television, in a statement. “Tuesday’s show is another great example of the exemplary work that our sales team does alongside our clients to develop innovative ways to amplify their messages.” Kenya Barris, an executive producer and creator of the series, had a hand in crafting the episode and dialogue, according to an ABC spokesperson.

Advertisers and media companies have in recent years placed more emphasis on blending commercials and content, the better to keep viewers who have grown accustomed through digital-media experience to seeing fewer commercials – or none – interrupting their favorite programs. But consumers may not always be able to determine what pieces are advertising and what parts are simply entertainment. In 2014, for example, Time Warner’s HLN ran a series called “Growing America” that made references to Holiday Inn. The hotel chain was a co-sponsor of the series. In the same year, Discovery Network aired a special called “Surviving Exodus,” all about the plagues Moses and his followers had to endure in getting out of Egypt. The show was created with 20th Century Fox as a means of calling attention to its big-budget film “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

To be sure, in some cases the advertiser’s involvement is not hard to discern. TV networks typically use the credits that flash rapidly on screen at the end of a broadcast to mention a marketer’s involvement in a program. But those credits are the equivalent of “fine print” and are not always memorable — or, in many cases, even watched with great regularity.

In past years, more involved projects have come to light. The White House Office of National Drug Policy in the late 1990s and 2000 struck a financial arrangement with several TV networks that allowed for the placement of anti-drug statements in dialogue and plotlines. The TV networks never ceded control of their programming, but got credit for airing a number of public-service messages they agree to broadcast every year.

Procter & Gamble has long been one of the nation’s most prominent and aggressive advertisers. The maker of Crest, Olay and Pampers focuses relentlessly on devising advertising that stands out while also being cost-effective. When the CW launched in 2006, P&G helped support the effort by running a new form of advertising called a “content wrap.” The company bought two-minute-long commercial breaks and used the time to air a short “magazine” like program that featured stylists talking about fashion and hair-care tips between ads for Herbal Essences hair-care products. In recent months, Procter has worked with ABC to place references to Olay in the most recent season “The Bachelor” and its Swiffer in “Dancing with the Stars.”

The company feels its “Talk” film warrants additional conversation. “When we first aired ‘The Talk’ back in July, there was a huge outpouring of support for the film and more importantly, the underlying message,” said Damon Jones, P&G’s global director of communications, in a statement. “We also received critical responses from others who did not feel the film spoke directly to their experiences. This reinforced our belief that the dialogue around bias not only needs to continue, but it also needs to be broadened so people from different backgrounds and experiences can participate in conversations and more deeply listen to one another, which leads to greater understanding.”

Other advertisers have been attracted to “black-ish.” In 2016, big insurer State Farm appeared as  one of Dre Johnson’s advertising clients, and was persuaded to sponsor the basketball team of Jack Johnson, one of his kids.

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