NBC’s ‘Positively Real,’ Family-Centric Programming Lures Brands to Its Unscripted Summer Slate

Integrations include Jeep, Dunkin’ Donuts and Hotel Transylvania 3

World of Dance's June 26 episode features the show's first integration, with Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. NBC
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When Mark Marshall took over as NBCUniversal’s evp of entertainment advertising sales in October 2016, he knew he had some heavy lifting to do when it came to convincing wary brands to advertise in NBC’s unscripted lineup.

Because of that, “I banned the word ‘reality’ for a period of time,” given the genre’s “negative connotations” across the industry, said Marshall. “We wanted to widen the aperture of what marketers thought reality programming is.”

With a brand-friendly summer slate that includes America’s Got Talent, American Ninja Warrior and World of Dance, and a new slogan for NBC’s alternative programming—“positively real”—Marshall believes he has now done that.

Working with Paul Telegdy, NBC Entertainment’s alternative and reality group president, Marshall positioned the shows as a brand-safe opportunity for clients to reach families, attracting new categories and advertisers to NBC’s summer lineup.

During next week’s June 26 episode, World of Dance will air its first integration, for the Sony Pictures Animation summer film Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.

“You’ll see these animated characters dancing,” said Marshall of the first NBC branded content spot to combine live-action and animation elements. “It’s a cool opportunity.”

Two other summer films, Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Paramount’s Mission: Impossible—Fallout, partnered with American Ninja Warrior this summer, and are featured in obstacle integrations. The Jurassic World episode aired last week, while Mission: Impossible will be part of the show’s July 23 episode.

“Fans respond to it, and it works well for the stories,” said Marshall of the American Ninja Warrior integrations. He added that the show is a good fit for theatrical brands, as family members are watching it together during summer vacation.

In addition to the theatrical integrations, American Ninja Warrior landed Jeep as a season-long sponsor, with a branded obstacle and warm-up area, as well as other custom content.

In search of brands “that share DNA with the programming,” Marshall pitched Jeep agency UM on the partnership. “To me, Ninja Warrior fit so well with Jeep. That was the first one that was part of this new rebranding that really took shape in terms of making sure we’re aligned with the right brands,” he said.

As for the network’s most popular unscripted show, America’s Got Talent, Dunkin’ Donuts has returned for the third year to sponsor the entire season.

Dunkin’ Donuts is also integrated into Talent University, a new biweekly digital series in which popular former America’s Got Talent contestants teach their skills to viewers. The first episode, which premiered May 24, featured last season’s winner, ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer. New episodes will air through Sept. 13.

“These integrations work for both audiences and advertisers because NBC and our partner brands are natural extensions of one another,” said Telegdy. “We look for opportunities to extend the narrative in a way that feels organic to the show and we think audiences appreciate that”

With the “positively real” focus, Marshall set out to win over clients who had previously had a blanket no-reality policy. “This was our chance to go out there and say, ‘what we do is not traditional reality,” said Marshall.

In his pitch to brands, Marshall draws parallels between contestants on NBC’s unscripted shows and the Olympic athletes showcased on the network during the Games coverage. “What Paul’s team has created, I always says it’s much more akin to how we tell stories in the Olympics, because it’s about the background of the athletes and the stories of the competitors, much more than the judging of those people,” said Marshall.

Explained Teledgy, “Our programming is inclusive and provides an opportunity for families to come together and be entertained. We pride ourselves in having a distinct way of exploring challenges, celebrating victories and showcasing stories that viewers can relate to and be inspired by. The fact that our advertising partners share our goals and values is what makes our partnerships work so well.”

The approach has drawn new advertisers from several categories, including theatrical, automotive, beverage and technology. “Because all of these telcos who are wanting to push family plans, it’s a perfect place to be able to talk to the whole family at once,” said Marshall.

Reality no longer represents a “small segment” of TV viewing, said Marshall, who noted that across broadcast TV, 20 percent of GRPs (gross ratings points) come from reality programming. Marshall said NBC’s reality shows reach 215 million viewers across the year, or two-thirds of all TV viewers.

“We feel great about how this genre has grown. I think that scale has opened the eyes of advertisers as well,” said Marshall. NBCU has seen success in the scatter market for its unscripted slate, as well as in the current upfront negotiation, for which talks are still ongoing, he added.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.