Telenovelas: Creating Stories Around Brands

By Marina Del Rivero

As it is generally known, over the last few years, the telenovela has become one of the most popular TV genres around the world. These soapy dramas are geared toward viewers who yearn for constantly evolving stories. But they also provide an opportunity for companies to embed their products or services. The presence of non-traditional advertising [or Publicidad no Tradicional (PNT)] has been responsible for rapid changes in scripts and made room for a new, burgeoning form of advertising: advertainment. But some critics have written it off as a sly way of placing the product within a show without losing its fictional flare.

Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes, founder and general creative director
of Buenos Aires-based branded content company FiRe Advertainment

“PNT can be annoying and can interfere with the plot,” said Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes, founder and general creative director of Buenos Aires-based branded content company FiRe Advertainment. “But advertainment [which takes product placement to the next level by sculpting stories around a brand] is the most natural way a brand can become part of the story; it interweaves with the characters and becomes a part of what they are watching without obstructing it,” he explained.

Reyes’s agency boasts a wide range of clients, from cosmetic company Sedal to Telco Speedy TV. In fact, FiRe is responsible for U.S. Hispanic network Telemundo’s Sweet Secret (Dame Chocolate) — which launched in mid-March — in which Clorox bleach is so tightly integrated into the telenovela that plot twists and characters’ lives hinge on the effectiveness of the brand’s products. Main advertiser Clorox is said to be eyeing the thriving novela export market that could take the series to potential Clorox customers in 30-plus countries.

Advertainment can work in both the short and long-term to create a closer and more lasting relationship between product and plot. At least that is what Reyes has observed from his experience. “We are at the beginning of a new phenomenon and the key lies in understanding that the audience is in front of the television to be told a story. Our challenge is to make sure the brand forms part of that story,” he said.

Advertainment can be defined as a hybrid of advertising and entertainment. With this technique, the client, agency, and production company join forces to create stories that can be built around the concept of a brand. “Advertising began in this way — programs were made to fit around brands. Products were included within the plot and the actors did the promotion,” Reyes said. “We are returning to the origins, but using modern tools as well as lessons learned from 60 years of television,” he pointed out.

Generally, an advertainment project takes the following course: A company will contact an agency that specializes in advertainment and once they have come up with an idea, they both present it to a TV network to see if it interests them. The client, agency and network will then reach an agreement on how to split up the revenue.

According to Reyes, “The advertainment evaluation is usually made up of three steps: value of the idea, production, and cost of airing. Each entity (company) involved takes their share. FiRe for the idea, and a percentage of the production; the production company for the production and the network for the cost of airing.”

Generally speaking, PNT can be tedious for scriptwriters who are forced to change the scripts after they have already been completed. “The abuse of non-traditional promotions can both annoy the viewer and affect the story,” said Adriana Lorenzón, author of telenovelas Montecristo, Los Roldán, Buenos Vecinos and Costumbres Argentinas, among others. “At times it is better to construct plots for an advertising campaign than sell the product through characters. Otherwise both parts are weakened — both the content and the effectiveness of the advertising campaign,” she said, recalling the times when she was asked to modify scenes for advertising products. “Generally speaking authors do not like to do that,” she emphasized.

In order for a telenovela to truly succeed, its story must be strong enough without the promotion. “If the content is strong, the product promoted benefits. If the content is weak, the result is negative for both the brand and the telenovela,” added Lorenzón. “It’s always better that the story creator adds the promotional scenes to the story before the script could be changed by the commercial division of the broadcast station. Otherwise, it would be a detriment to its quality,” Lorenzón said.

Advertainment was recently introduced in both Chile and Colombia. Chilean short-form telenovela Amame Suavemente brought new meaning to the North American term “soap opera,” having been created to promote its new line of powder soap with softener.

The telenovela, which evolved into a series of 22 two-minute episodes, is the brainchild of soap brand Ariel together with ad agency RepGrey Colombia, and an alliance with Colombia’s Caracol TV network.

To promote the concept of Ariel’s superior softness and cleanliness to viewers, the story unfolds in a luxurious hotel, where a maid named Blanca, upon feeling the softness and freshness of the sheets washed with Ariel Con un Toque de Suavizante soap, falls asleep in the bed of Esteban, a famous rock singer. In true traditional telenovela form, she later spends every episode trying to seduce him.

These telenovela spots aired in Chile during broadcasts of Pasiones on TVN and repeated in the nightly schedule, reaching an average of 10 rating points, and over 150,000 viewers each day. “Even though viewers were accustomed to seeing product placement within television programs, positioning a product in a drama was something that had never been explored before in Chile,” said Tomas Durandeau, Brand Manager of Ariel soap in Chile.

“We are responsible for having developed the promotions linked to this telenovela, and for having created the viral Internet campaign where the lead actors encouraged consumer participation in the series-themed blogs,” said Durandeau.

Ariel took a gamble on these mini telenovela spots as a way to reach consumers. But the gamble has paid off, resulting in an increased volume of sales and placing Ariel’s new soap inside consumers’ shopping carts.

But one question remains: Could the novelas that rely heavily on advertainment work as well outside their original countries, since in many cases the products being sold aren’t known internationally? According to FiRe’s Reyes, “The initial objective is not to sell the novelas internationally. Generally, foreign distribution is in the hands of the production company.”