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Turner Knows Branding

Turner Broadcasting is getting major advertisers to venture beyond the 30-second spot. By touting its cable networks' own branding, Turner has reached upfront deals for sponsored original content that showcases advertisers' brands. The deals are aimed at engaging viewers at a time when ad clutter and competition from the Web are intensifying.

"Our aggressiveness or innovation in this area comes from the fact that we are branded networks and look at ourselves as marketers, too, so we share the challenges with advertisers," says Linda

Yaccarino, executive VP of Turner Entertainment ad sales & marketing. "We're attempting to keep the viewers on our air in the face of all the noise and distraction in the market with compelling content, which is also attractive to our clients."

TNT, with its "We Know Drama" tagline, has been shoring up new advertisers for its microseries, original two- to 30-minute multiplatform shows crafted around advertisers' products. Previous sponsors have included MasterCard and Chase. Meanwhile, Court TV is preparing initiatives tied to its own rebrand, set for Jan. 1, 2008.

But TBS has been out front, snagging partnerships with such advertisers as Sierra Mist soda and the Sonic fast-food chain that complement its "Very Funny" brand of comedy programming.

A series of original standup bits called "Sierra Mist Up for Laughs" will run throughout the second quarter during late-night movies on TBS. The bits are set in a comedy club housed inside TBS' fictional "1-800-TBS-Funny" headquarters, an animated building the network has used to showcase other sponsors over the past two years.

Target audience

The late-night films, including Vegas Vacation (April 24) and American Pie: Band Camp (May 8), target the same 18- to 34-year-old audience that Sierra Mist is aiming for. The spots will also feature winners of a Sierra-sponsored comedy contest from last year's Comedy Festival special on TBS.

Chad Stubbs, a manager for Sierra Mist, praises TBS for giving the soda's brand such prominent treatment. "They definitely set the standard for us on putting us front and center," he says. "It feels more active than supportive."

Other networks are creating similar sponsor-branded content. MTV just launched a series of single-sponsor–branded hosted segments in its new Thursday-night block, signing Universal Pictures as its first client.

In a deal of a different sort, Sonic has signed on as a presenting sponsor of TBS' new original sitcom, The Bill Engvall Show, which premieres July 17. The fast-food chain will help market the family show through a co-branded TV and online ad campaign. Sonic products will be integrated into the show's storyline, and the network is in talks for in-store promotion and other elements.

The deal is similar to the one TBS made with to launch last year's comedy My Boys. The show plugged the online dating service on TV while Match, in turn, plugged the show on its site and saw a nice jump in traffic.

Sonic, along with Nationwide auto insurance, has also signed on to sponsor "Everybody Loves Funny Commercials," in which TBS teases "very funny" commercials during the first break in its acquired sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. The initiative is designed to discourage time-delay viewers watching on a digital-video recorder from fast-forwarding through the spots.

They really like it

So far, results have been good for ads from sponsors like Capitol One. According to IAG Research, ads shown in the "Everybody Loves" pods have delivered 58% stronger brand recall, 100% stronger message recall and 60% stronger likeability scores than spots that ran in the show's traditional commercial pods.

"What Turner is doing is innovative, and the results were pretty terrific," says IAG Co-CEO Alan D. Gould. "The data suggests these are major improvements to ad effectiveness. They are very forward thinking and appear to be doing a lot of experimentation and innovation."

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