By STUART ELLIOTT
Published: March 19, 2013
TELEVISION networks and channels are becoming increasingly involved in the creation of commercials that appear during their shows, hoping to counter the growing penchant among viewers for zapping or zipping through conventional commercials.
The reason behind those efforts to keep consumers interested in ads rather than avoiding them is economic. In the coming “upfront” negotiations, marketers will be asked by the networks and channels to buy commercial time — and, in all likelihood, pay more for it. But marketers may be reluctant to do so if viewers do not make time to watch commercials.
The new buzz phrase on Madison Avenue for the creation of sponsored content is content marketing, although it is also being called content advertising and native advertising. More familiar terms for the trend include branded content, branded entertainment and advertorials.
Among the purveyors of programming that are most active in developing commercials for marketers is Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent of cable channels that include DIY, Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel.
As the company starts a series of 2013-14 upfront presentations, in markets like Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, a primary selling point of its executives is to create commercials that are styled like program content — some even featuring the hosts of shows who appear on the channels.
“Each spring, we have lots and lots of account-specific meetings with agency folks, and sometimes the client is in the room,” said Jonathan LaConti, vice president for ad sales at the New York office of Scripps Networks Interactive. “We create solutions to meet their needs.”
In making a commercial composed of sponsored content, “we want to be really careful,” Mr. LaConti said, that it “looks really natural” rather than like a sales spiel. And if a host of a Scripps Networks Interactive show is involved, the sponsor ought to be “closely aligned with his brand,” he added, to prevent perceptions of selling out.
As a result, the production of such spots can be “terribly complicated,” said John Dailey, senior vice president of Eastern region ad sales for the home category at the New York office of Scripps Networks Interactive.
And “a lot of nail biting” can occur, he added, describing “a day in November when, if we did not get a signed talent agreement” for a host who was to appear in a commercial, “we would not have been able to get it on the air in time for the date we’d identified.”
But the additional work is worth it to marketers, Mr. Dailey said he believed, because they “feel that cuts through the clutter,” particularly when “consumers can access the content across a number of touch points,” meaning online as well as on television.
And the additional work is worth it to Scripps Networks Interactive, which during the upfront market before the 2012-13 season, booked consolidated ad sales of more than $1 billion, said Jon Steinlauf, executive vice president for ad sales and marketing at the New York office, the first time that milestone was reached.
Some deals the company makes to produce customized commercials for marketers are valued at more than $10 million apiece. They include an elaborate agreement with the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company in which the MEC media agency, part of the GroupM unit of WPP, was “a terrific collaborator,” Mr. Dailey said.
That deal involves, in addition to commercials on four cable channels that are to begin this week, online ads and advertorials in two magazines, Food Network Magazine and HGTV Magazine, published by a unit of the Hearst Corporation in a joint venture with Scripps Networks Interactive.
“The zapping is getting easier and easier,” said Jim Lyski, chief marketing officer at Scotts Miracle-Gro in Marysville, Ohio. “For our brands to thrive in the new media world, we have to put a lot of effort into content creation and content curation.”
“When we do, the ads are remembered and break through and are considered highly relevant,” he added, because consumers “are almost volunteering to watch” the customized commercials, which they perceive as “in the context of what they’re already watching; it flows naturally.”
Another marketer that has teamed with Scripps Networks Interactive for a significant content-creation agreement is the Land Rover brand sold by the Jaguar Land Rover North America unit of Tata Motors, working with two WPP agencies, Y&R and Mindshare.
The deal includes customized commercials for television and the Web, under the rubric “Travel Channel’s Road to the Unexpected,” featuring a Travel Channel host, Don Wildman, driving Land Rovers in Bolivia, Britain, Jamaica and Quebec, and accompanying teasers — yes, commercials for commercials — to promote the spots.
“When you co-create with Travel Channel, they bring the perspective of their consumers to the project and help us begin a dialogue with them,” said Danielle Koffer, managing director for client leadership at Mindshare in New York,
“This is the fruits of our labors from last year’s upfront,” she added. “We’ll be looking to do more in this year’s upfront.”
Kim McCullough, brand vice president at Land Rover in Mahwah, N.J., said, “We’re looking for extended partnerships that can provide content throughout the year, not only on TV but also online, and gives us content for social media.”
For instance, Mr. Wildman, on his Twitter feed last week, told his followers, “In my next life I’m coming back as a Range Rover.” The comment was subsequently reposted by Land Rover from its Twitter feed.
A version of this article appeared in print on March 20, 2013, on page B9 of the New York edition with the headline: Using ‘Sponsored Content’ To Keep Viewers Watching.