'Podbuster' is '30 Rock' drawing card


Figuring out where "30 Rock" ends and commercials begin requires a sharp eye thanks to American Express.

Recent episodes of the NBC series have been interspersed with the credit card company's so-called "podbusters": content segments featuring "Rock" cast members that appear right before the commercial break.

For instance, a viewer with an itchy trigger finger on Tivo's fast-forward button may have held off when "Rock" stars Jack McBrayer, Jane Krakowski and Scott Adsit appeared in a holiday-themed segment that had nothing to do with the episode's story line.

A total of 10 such segments have been produced, with each running 35 or 65 seconds. They carry a "Holiday Fun Times From American Express" tag that drives viewers to NBC.com/americanexpress for additional exclusive content. (NBC declined comment on whether it compensated "Rock" talent or the show's producers for the segments.)

Also running during "Rock" is Amex's ubiquitous spot starring "Rock" creator-star Tina Fey as a series producer, which also easily blends with the show.

"For years the networks wouldn't let a commercial featuring a TV star run in the body of their show because they felt it was too much of an endorsement," said one media agency executive who declined to be named. "It was confusing for the consumer. I guess now that they're letting brands integrate into the shows, they've changed the rules. It's very clever within the body of the show."

Podbusters emanate from an overall multimillion-dollar ad buy that Amex negotiated with NBC to provide more creative advertising solutions beyond just 30-second spots. These in turn allow NBC to defray the costs of fledgling series like "Rock."

Sources indicate that the cost to Amex to air the content is comparable to that of traditional commercial time. Amex declined comment and NBC cited its policy not to comment on the financing of its client deals.

Mike Malone, vp at entertainment marketing firm Alliance, said running podbusters adjacent to the show's content is a "clever and unique way" for Amex to wage the "continuing battle with DVR technology."

But Amex said it did not strategically place the Fey ad so that the "Rock" audience would think it was still watching the show.

"We're not trying to blur lines or confuse people," said Nancy Smith, Amex's vp global media and sponsorships. "We're actually coming at this from finding a way to engage and entertain people."

"Rock" content is just the recent series-based entertainment content either produced or commissioned by Amex.

Recently, the credit card company aired a hybrid commercial/promo spot during NBC's "Heroes," featuring a comic book-like sketch of Beyonce that turned into a real-life version of the singer. The spot, created by NBC, mimicked the sketches of characters on the show and featured "Heroes" music. It began with "Stay Tuned For ... More Heroes on NBC" and ended with "And also see how Beyonce navigates her life with American Express."

Amex has also featured a director's cut of Fox's "24," extended previews of the following week's show for Fox's "Prison Break" and "lost and found" clues to the unfolding storyline of ABC's "Lost" on the shows' websites. While some content is available to all consumers, there is always exclusive content only accessible to cardholders.

Running the Fey ad during "Rock" is also not a new move for the advertiser. It has previously aired spots featuring Ellen DeGeneres, also depicting the comedian on the set of her show, during her daytime talker.