Over the course of five separate episodes and many weeks, Microsoft has worked with the network to present outside-the-show “story stretches” that add new details to specific plot elements while highlighting the technology giant’s Surface device. The company has also sponsored video extensions and storylines that make their way to Instagramm and other social-media venues.
Coop, the character played by Bre-Z, over the course of several episodes shown in October, November and December, starts to write a song, “You Don’t Ask,” and then works to get it out to the public. But some of the plotline takes place in commercial-break segments and on Instagram, in an effort to give fans of the show more content and more story. The whole thing culminated in a bespoke music video that has been made available on YouTube and other social outlets.
“A lot of partners are like, ‘Here’s my brand. Here’s my product. Figure out a way to work around it,’” she says. Microsoft executives, recalls Barbra Robin, senior vice president of branded entertainment marketing at CW, which is a joint venture of ViacomCBS and AT&T’s WarnerMedia, instead focused on show elements that might work well with the products they hoped to promote. “They were, ‘Here’s a story that is important to fans. How can we integrate Microsoft into that?’ There are not a lot of brands that allow us to do that.”
The CW has a long history of putting sponsored vignettes in its commercial breaks. In 2006, as it was launching its first season, the network convinced Procter & Gamble to sponsor a mini-magazine about hot trends that played out in the breaks of “America’s Next Top Model.” But getting an advertiser to sponsor scripted vignettes in commercial inventory marks a new step, says Robin.
Advertisers on CW have in recent seasons found some new opportunities that don’t necessarily appear on the network. In 2018, AT&T ran promos on the CW during the Archie Comics-inspired drama “Riverdale” urging viewers to check out postings by one of the series’ characters, Kevin Keller.
At a time when a rising generation of viewers is growing accustomed to seeing few ads on streaming-video hubs – and sometimes none – getting them to stick around for “a word from our sponsor” has become more challenging. So making the commercials into an extension of the program to which viewers originally tuned is an idea that has gained new traction.
Doing so creates more work for everyone to vet. Each piece of the Coop music story from “All American” was crafted specifically for the media venue on which it would appear, says Robin. “Nothing was re-purposed. It was all unique content for Instagram Story, for a feed,” she says.