'Kimmel' revives live TV spots

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ABC is set to announce shortly that "Jimmy Kimmel Live" will integrate live commercials into each episode of the late-night talk show subject to interest on the part of advertisers. The first live commercials are expected to begin next month.

The technique is a throwback to the early days of TV, when programs were produced live and advertisers often sponsored shows in their entirety. The practice went out of vogue in the 1970s, when most programs were taped and had multiple advertisers.

But live spots are now seen as a way to stand out, just as the official yardstick for measuring ads on network TV has shifted to commercial ratings. Advertisers also believe that live ads might be one way to beat the DVR by integrating the product into the content of the show. In May, car navigation system manufacturer Garmin aired the first live commercial on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" in 14 years.

"Probably most people had no idea they were being pitched a commercial," said Steve Lovell, media sponsorship marketing manager at Garmin and the architect of the spot. "It looked like a skit." He said that post-telecast research showed that effectiveness and awareness levels for the live spot were significantly higher than for many of the company's traditional 30-second spots. Garmin is planning another live spot on "Tonight" in the second quarter of this year.

Leno's predecessor, Johnny Carson, was one of the last late-night talk show hosts to do live ads on a regular basis before they went out of style. Alpo was one of the show's regular buyers of such ads. Years ago, Snapple iced tea credited Howard Stern's live riffs on its product during morning drive radio with helping to launch the brand. Today, morning radio host Don Imus continues to do live ads.

Doug Hochstadt, vp late-night sales at ABC, said his team are reaching out to advertisers. "It just gives us one more way that our customers can touch the product," he said.

Ad buyers are intrigued by the "Kimmel" plan.

"I think it's a great idea," said David Barrington, executive vp and managing director of video investments at Havas' MPG. "The brand has to fit first and foremost, and I'm sure it's not for everyone. But at the end of the day, to have someone who is a great talent like that make the ad a part of the content will help get our messaging across and help break through the clutter."

Steve McClellan is a reporter for AdWeek. AdWeek's Christine Champagne contributed to this report.
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