Digital method puts ad inside TV show

By Reuters | February 27, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- A breakthrough in television advertising debuted without fanfare last spring as a brand-name box of crackers appeared on the CBS sitcom 'Yes, Dear' for about 20 seconds, seen but hardly noticed by millions of viewers.

Unbeknownst to them, the image of Kellogg's Club Crackers had been digitally painted onto the top of a coffee table after the scene was filmed, launching the latest advance in a marketing practice known in the industry as product placement but derided by critics as 'stealth advertising.'

The 'Yes, Dear' episode in April 2005 marked the first commercial use of a patent-pending innovation dubbed Digital Brand Integration, or DBI, developed by New York-based Marathon Ventures, and grew out of an unprecedented marketing deal with CBS.

Since then, CBS has used the technology to plug brands such as StarKist Tuna and Chevrolet on several other shows, including the hit police drama 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation' and new sitcom 'How I Met Your Mother.'

David Brenner, founder and president of Marathon, said his company expects to unveil a new pact soon with the Fox network, a unit of News Corp. Ltd.

Blending brand names and products into television shows, as opposed to traditional ads that run during commercial breaks, has gained greater currency in recent years as the industry faces the rising popularity of TiVo and other devices that let viewers skip commercials.

But some industry experts suggest that product placement -- digital or otherwise -- has limited value in delivering a message.

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Monty Solomon
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