Old Meets New As Univision Brings Dynamic Product Placements To Telenovelas

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision is spicing up its programming with advanced TV initiatives.

“Linear is changing, consumers are changing, and we’re doing what we can to shift along with those changes,” said Luis De La Parra, SVP of partner solutions at Univision.

But one thing that isn’t changing is viewers’ appetite for content. Some of Univision’s most engaged viewing comes from its telenovelas, a fast-paced cousin to the American soap opera. A typical telenovela airs daily during primetime for a limited time, perhaps just three or four months.

“It’s the original binge-watching,” De La Parra said. “We already have the attention, and now we’re experimenting with and testing new products that we can integrate in order to extend a brand’s message beyond the traditional 30-second spot.”

One recent experiment is with dynamic product placement through a partnership with Mirriad, which uses computer vision to embed brand assets within contextually relevant scenes. T-Mobile, an early tester of the technology, saw a 10% increase in brand awareness when it ran dynamically served units within Univision programming in conjunction with its usual 30-second spot.

AdExchanger caught up with De La Parra.

AdExchanger: What’s your process for selecting advertising and technology partners to work with?

LUIS DE LA PARRA: My job is about finding solutions that allow ad agencies and advertisers to better connect with the US Hispanic market – solutions that help us help brands advertise against this audience in prime time.

And we have a lot of content opportunities. We own two over-the-air networks, 12 cable networks, a vast number of digital assets and we, of course, have TV stations and radio stations. All of these assets give us the capability to do a lot of experiential and experimental things for brands across the country.

What’s a good recent example?

We’ve been doing AR around a few events, such as the VMAs [MTV Video Music Awards]. Augmented reality can be a true companion to other methods of engaging an audience in a way that’s natural to the storytelling happening on linear, and then extending that to the social feed where people can access filters, for example.

Do you partner with brands to do storyline tie-ins or product placement in shows?

We air a new telenovela episode every day of the week, Monday through Friday, and the vast majority – around 92% – of our viewing happens live, rather than on VOD, which makes prime time our most valuable screen time.

Advertising in these slots by integrating into a storyline is expensive and takes a lot of work. It’s not easy to do truly organic advertising that is embedded authentically into the narrative of a story. We see the future in terms of scalable executions. One example is the work we’re doing with Mirriad to put virtual ads into our novelas.

How much additional inventory are you able to generate with dynamic product placements?

It’s hard to quantify and it depends on the narrative of the story, but we probably find an additional three interaction points per episode, the equivalent of another 30-second unit of inventory per hour.

But it’s not only about more inventory, it’s about the quality of that inventory. We did internal research into whether inserting signage into a novela actually benefits an advertiser, and our findings indicate a huge increase in likability when people see these types of impressions in addition to 30-second spots. That means beyond adding more inventory, this allows brands to reinforce and amplify their existing messages without having to invest a lot of additional marketing resources.

Which of your advertisers are trying this out?

We’ve done this with a few different brands, but one of the most seamless has been T-Mobile. They provided us with a few simple brand assets, including digital ads and creative that could fit into out-of-home, and Mirriad detected spots within our episodes where we could place their ads organically, such as outdoor units in establishing shots, around malls or on the screen of a character’s computer – whatever made sense in the scene.

The next generation of this in our partnership with T-Mobile will be to add in sounds. If someone receives a call on their cell phone, for example, we could use the T-Mobile ring tone instead of a generic one.

What do you charge for something like this, and how do you package it with your other inventory?

We try to work in whatever way is most comfortable for the brand. It could be a four-month intellectual property fee or production fee, or it could be incremental value into their CPMs. It usually depends on how a brand has negotiated its upfronts. What’s good about the Mirriad partnership is that it happens outside of traditional upfront dollars, and it’s a simple rev share deal. We also don’t have to pay talent fees, because the talent isn’t directly endorsing the brand.

Dynamic product placement is cool, but do most advertisers still see it as experimental and early days?

The benefit is clear to us, but it always takes the advertising community a little longer to truly understand and adopt these sorts of things. For the moment, we’re just laser-focused on making sure that all of our partners, especially agencies, understand what this capability can do for brands.

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