'30 Rock' rolls ads into story lines

Backhanded Verizon placement latest integration for NBC comedy

In the Nov. 15 episode of NBC's "30 Rock," Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, in their roles as Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon, sang the praises of Verizon Wireless before Fey looked into the camera and asked, "Can we have our money now?"

At least in this case, art did indeed imitate life. Verizon said it handed over an integration fee to NBC, in addition to some marketing support, for the mini-commercial within one of the network's hottest shows.

The scene in question featured Jack saying, "These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular. I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance." Liz responded, "Well, sure, that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. If I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, 'Where is my nearest retailer so I can get one?' " She then broke the fourth wall and addressed the camera with the plea for cash.

"We talk with NBC on a consistent basis about opportunities," said Lou Rossi, director of media and sponsorships at Verizon Wireless. "We had engaged them to think about some ways we could help increase our presence in the marketplace, and they came back to us with the '30 Rock'-specific opportunity."

Rossi declined to disclose how much Verizon paid for the "30 Rock" integration but said that in addition to fees, it provided marketing support for the show with a co-branded ad in Maxim magazine and promotional content on VerizonWireless.com. "We want an integration to be as organic and natural to a show as it can be," he said. "Certainly with the '30 Rock' humor and writing, this type of integration just works well for them and for Verizon Wireless as well." NBC declined comment on the financial terms of the deal.

It's not the first time the irreverent NBC comedy has made a joke of the increasingly common practice of product integration while at the same time plugging a network advertiser. In fall 2006, there was a similar spoof with Snapple in the episode "Jack-Tor," which featured Liz and the show-within-a-show's other writers protesting a directive from GE and Jack to write product placement into the show, all while talking about how much they love Snapple. The dialogue included lines like, "I only date guys who drink Snapple" and ended with Jack saying, "Yes, everyone loves Snapple. Lord knows I do." There was even a guy in a Snapple suit who walked out of the elevator asking for the human resources department.

Snapple's integration also was linked to its media buy on the network, a company spokeswoman said.

Despite the integration deals, "30 Rock" has made it onto Nielsen's list of the top 10 shows with product placement only one time since the fall season started. "The Office," another NBC show known for cutting major integration deals with advertisers in the past but which insists it no longer is involved in any such deals, turned up on the Nielsen top 10 list for the first four weeks of the fall season.

Through Nov. 18, Nielsen tracked 142 placements this season for a total of 779 seconds, or nearly 13 minutes, for "30 Rock," compared with 381 occurrences for a total of 2,505 seconds, or nearly 42 minutes, for "Office." From Sept. 24-Nov. 11, there were more than 80 brand mentions on "Office," according to Nielsen.