How NBC and Amex killed off 30 minutes of TV commercials

The 'Leap Day' stunt suggests marketing leaders should rethink branded content

Before too long, a show like This Hour Has 22 Minutes may, in fact, have a lot more than 22 minutes.

Feb. 29 does not come around every year, and in 2016 NBCUniversal is marking it in a way that should prove very interesting for marketing leaders at major brands. “Leap Day,” as it has been dubbed, will see the network axe about half an hour of time that would normally be allowed for TV commercials in favour of additional programming. This includes mini-documentaries following the latest season of The Voice and an extra sketch on Late Night With Seth Meyers. This will come courtesy of American Express, which hired the branded content arm of Buzzfeed to create it.

The New York Times was just one of many outlets that suggested a sea change is coming:

The move by NBC may be a bit of a gimmick . . . But it could also provide a glimpse into the future of television advertising. Long dependent on conventional commercials, television networks are now re-evaluating their advertising strategies as fears about cord-cutting and steep ratings declines intensify.

To some extent, branded content is nothing new, of course. And it might make even more sense for branded content to grow its presence on television, home of the original “brought to you by” tagline that is now recast in various forms in print, websites and other digital touchpoints. What’s interesting here is that, mere weeks after the Super Bowl once again put the spotlight not only on American football, but the power of outstanding TV commercials, NBC and Amex are turning the absence of commercials into a must-see event. Will Leap Day be an aberration, or something that other brands consider as a way of capturing more of consumers’ attention?

As with any branded content play, success will largely depend on whether the stories being told are as compelling as the one that originally attracted the audience. It may also mean advertisers and networks work tactically in replacing commercials — perhaps on a certain day of the week, for instance, or during certain programs. In an age where ad-blocking is afflicting other mediums, TV advertisers seem to be staying one step ahead with what might be called “content blocking.”

Marketing executives that want to follow Amex’s lead will not only have to have large budgets and negotiating clout with major networks, they’ll also need agencies of a creative calibre who could essentially be writing for the same series they have traditionally been paid to interrupt. A true victory here will go beyond a one-time stunt, but demonstrate a subtler, smarter approach to nurturing audience relationships through storytelling — one that not only grows brand affinity but establishes the CMOs behind such approaches as essential members of the C-suite team. In many organizations, that’s not a small step. It remains a giant leap.

 

 

 

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