Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, James Corden Unite for Google Commercial Triple Play (EXCLUSIVE)

CBS Stephen Colbert Trevor Noah James
Courtesy of CBS

Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and James Corden all have extra work this evening.

The three late-night hosts will on Wednesday night make nods to Google and a new commercial from the company that highlights how consumers searched for ways to heal and come back during a difficult year, part of a rare triple play that weaves an advertiser’s message across three different late-night programs in the same time span.

The project has been in the works for almost three months, says Joe Mina, senior vice president for news, late-night and daytime sales at ViacomCBS, which broadcasts “The Late Show” and “The Late Late Show” on CBS and “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central.

“There is a matrix of things we have to manage in order to have a successful execution,” Mina says in an interview. Among the challenges: Each of the three shows will handle the ad placement in its own fashion. Colbert’s “Late Show,” for example, plans to cut a commercial break from Wednesday night’s broadcast and add more content, with Google getting some credit for the extra laughs.

“Each of the shows will deliver this message in their own voice, in their own tone,” says Mina.

In a different era, when David Letterman and Jay Leno held sway, product placement in late night was less of a focus. Letterman had a reputation within CBS for avoiding the practice, though even he agreed to allow an in-show segment in 2008 for Mazda, then part of Ford, one of CBS’ biggest late-night sponsors. In the years since that time, Jimmy Kimmel has embraced doing commercials in show, Jimmy Fallon has given nods to Samsung in programs that use that electronic-maker’s equipment and James Corden has put a full bar on set stocked with potables from Heineken and Anheuser Busch InBev.

Advertisers like to appear alongside the late-night hosts because they are laser focused on the day’s events and news, giving the sponsors added relevance to consumers watching at home. They can also use social media to call attention to the segments, and, in many cases, benefit from clips issued by the shows’ own social feeds. Google wants to see how all three late-night hosts “all cultural experts in their own regard” offer “their own personal, relatable, authentic representations of what made the year unique,” says Jeffrey Whipps, vice president of marketing for Google, in a statement provided by email.

And the advertisers can achieve such things at considerably cheaper prices than what is typically required for commercials in primetime.

The average cost of a 30-second ad in Colbert’s “Late Show” in the first ten months of the year was $21,511, according to Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending. A 30-second “Daily Show” spot during that period cost an average of $9,884, while a 30-second commercial in “Late Late Show” had an average price of $4,745. A commercial running in a primetime show can cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the day it airs and the size of its audience.

The late-night appearances typically bring extra money to the shows and the broadcaster. Deals to weave advertisers into the programs usually include an “integration fee,”says Mina. and, when applicable, another one for production costs.

Google has steadily searched for bigger connections with wee-hours audiences. In 2018, the company worked with Colbert to craft a segment, dubbed “More Show,” that took the place of time that would normally have been devoted to a commercial break. The company worked with NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” that same year for a commercial featuring cast members Kyle Mooney and Aidy Bryant that ran during an original broadcast of the series.  The digital giant last year at this time worked with Colbert’s “Late Show” and “Daily Show” for similar nods to a “Year In Search” concept.

Tonight’s late-night troika represents a big achievement for ViacomCBS, which has worked to demonstrate the broader portfolio of content under its aegis since the former CBS Corp. rejoined its corporate sibling, Viacom Inc., in 2019. The company doesn’t muscle clients into making bigger buys, Mina says, but stands at the ready to help advertisers who want to explore new possibilities that can thread across various properties.

Getting the hosts on board is an important part of any effort, says the executive. “It’s creatively driven, and the shows have to have a strong feeling to partner with the brands,” he says. Colbert has, over the years, proven willing to work with certain advertisers. He incorporated Sabra hummus into his first “Late Show” broadcast on CBS, interviewed an animated owl for Sanofi’s Xyzal allergy medication, and, earlier this week, put together a separate “More Show” segment for DoorDash. Corden, meanwhile, has woven Coca-Cola and McDonald’s into one of his signature rounds of “Carpool Karaoke.”

“As TV evolves, we have to find new and different ways to connect with consumers,” says Mina, while also making sure not to overwhelm the late-night programs with advertising assignments that might dilute their entertainment value. “There is definitely a capacity” to such work, he adds. On this Wednesday evening, at least, there seems to be a lot of room.