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The options available to advertisers on network television channels are growing in their diversity and sophistication. But at the same time, many advertisers are shifting more of their resources to other channels, rather than buying traditional advertisements to be inserted in commercial blocks during shows. In response to both these factors, NBC’s most recent pitch to advertisers sought to showcase all the options they could access in partnership with the network, in a way that reinforced the appeal and promise of scripted, televised content as a place to insert advertisements.

The effort involved a one-time reunion of the cast of 30 Rock, NBC’s popular, self-referencing sitcom, which has been off air for several years. In this iteration of the show, the characters had prominent roles in a fictional version of NBC, including one-time page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), who had risen through the ranks to become the president of the network. The reboot featured all the popular members of the cast, including Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan, and it was written and broadcast for a general audience. But the plotline also was specific in its purpose, in that it involved the characters looking for solution for Kenneth’s struggle as he sought ideas to appeal to advertisers.

Thus when NBC shared the video with its real-life potential advertisers, they received detailed information about NBC’s new Peacock channel, new shows on the docket for coming months, and the identity of the network’s corporate advertising sales executives. The script also featured some cutting-edge advertising options offered by NBC, such as its Brand Experience and Scripted Commercial Launch services. In the former, advertised products get worked organically into the plot, with the assistance of show writers and NBC advertising talents. For the latter, content in the show leads directly into a related commercial. For example, in the 30 Rock episode, the characters joked about the delay of the 2020 Olympic Games to 2021, right before a commercial break promoting the Olympic broadcast on NBC.

Along with the Olympic Games spot, between the scripted content, the commercial blocks included advertisements that highlighted its novel capabilities. One of them transmitted a QR code that would enable viewers to shop for the product being advertised. When the content switched back to the scripted show, the characters called for other advertisers to join, sometimes even mentioning them by name. Thus the advertising targeted both consumers who might be interested in NBC’s offerings and the brands that it hopes to add to its commercial blocks in future episodes of all its shows.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is this approach likely to be successful in appealing to advertisers and encouraging them to buy advertising time on NBC?
  2. Are in-show advertising tactics effective for convincing consumers, especially as they become more common?

Source: Chris Kelly, “NBC Spoofs Its Own Ad Pitch with ‘30 Rock’ Primetime Special,” Marketing Dive, July 16, 2020