Where in the World is Matt Lauer: On the web


NEW YORK TIMES

By STUART ELLIOTT

Published: April 11, 2007

SINCE 1998, NBC has been sending a “Today” host to far-flung locales like Angkor Wat, Easter Island and Machu Picchu, all for a feature on the show called “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?” This week, to help promote the next installment, Mr. Lauer is taking his most ambitious foray so far into cyberspace. For the first time, NBC is devoting a special Web site, or a microsite, to the feature, and is selling all the advertising space to a single sponsor, Hyundai Motor America. The microsite (followmatt.com), which went live on Monday, offers visitors a smorgasbord of contents, including humorous video clips, a recap of Mr. Lauer’s seven previous trips, and a contest centered on consumers creating material for the site. The contents are accessible through items arrayed on a virtual desk, covered with what are meant to be Mr. Lauer’s possessions: his passport, iPod, camera, compass and car keys (the fob bears a Hyundai logo, natch). There are neat touches, too. Click on a memo pad bearing the NBC peacock logo and the network’s familiar three-note chimes are heard. The promotion, which Hyundai is paying an estimated $2.5 million to sponsor, is indicative of efforts by the television networks to more closely interweave traditional programming — and advertising — with the online media. NBC in particular has been making much of its commitment to digital offerings, under the intent gaze of its parent, NBC Universal, part of the General Electric Company. Recent initiatives include enabling computer users to watch prime-prime programs like “Heroes” and “The Office” on the network Web site, nbc.com; a separate site (nbbc.com), in partnership with the affiliated stations, devoted to syndicating video clips to independent Web sites; a broadband channel, dotcomedy.com, devoted to light-hearted fare; and a blog, “The Daily Nightly,” written by the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” Brian Williams (dailynightly.msnbc.com). Of course, just because TV shows are enjoying a second life through the Internet does not guarantee success. NBC itself was reminded of that yesterday, when programmers pulled from a prestigious Thursday night time slot a new sitcom, “Andy Barker, P.I.,” which had online previews before appearing on TV. Still, in the competitive realm of television, especially in crowded parts of the broadcast day like the morning, the efforts to gain an advantage over rival networks go on. “The ‘Today’ show is not a TV show anymore; it’s a brand, a brand that can play in all these new areas,” Jim Bell, the executive producer of “Today,” said in a telephone interview. “The challenge is taking established franchises like ‘Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?’ and reinventing them for the Internet, where the growth is,” he said. “We’re trying to be everywhere, and we should be.” The previous Internet presence for Mr. Lauer’s travel feature was low-key, limited to blogs, online chat and photographs. Almost all of the campaigns to promote “Where in the World” had been devoted instead to the traditional media: ads in newspapers and magazines and commercials on radio stations and cable networks. NBC News executives and their counterparts at the network’s internal marketing unit had long been considering ways to raise the online profile for the feature, which is scheduled to run on “Today” from April 30 to May 4. “Digital is something we’re all trying to figure out, how to make it work and how to make money on it,” said Frank Radice, senior vice president for advertising and promotion at the East Coast office of the marketing unit, known as the NBC Agency. The goal for the microsite is “to build a viral buzz for marketing ‘Where in the World,’ ” Mr. Radice said. Achieving that, he said, would enable him to forgo “a traditional advertising campaign.” To promote the microsite, the NBC Agency will buy search words on Google, he added, including “Matt Lauer,” “travel” and the names of various countries. Several agencies and digital design companies worked with the NBC Agency to produce the microsite, including the iChameleon Group, Neverstop and UCG. Hyundai Motor America, part of the South Korean auto maker Hyundai Motor, worked on the sponsorship with its media agency, Carat, as well as its digital media agency, Carat Fusion, both part of the Aegis Group. “This day part is something we’ve been pursuing for a while,” said Joel Ewanick, vice president for marketing at Hyundai Motor America in Fountain Valley, Calif., referring to the morning news shows, “but it’s hard to find something you can ‘own.’ ” Joining with “Today” on the Internet makes sense, he added, because “last year over 80 percent of people who bought cars in America said they did some kind of research online.” Hyundai Motor America was “an early entrant” into advertising online, Mr. Ewanick said, “but we kind of stayed where we were and frankly didn’t use it to its full potential.” Plans call for the percentage of the annual ad budget devoted to the Internet to increase to 10 percent for 2007, he added, from around 2.5 percent last year and to reach the 20 percent level in 2008. Hyundai spends about $600 million a year on advertising. The sponsorship of “Where in the World” is for 2007, Mr. Ewanick said, with “first right of refusal” for next year. “The most important part of this is that we want to build brand equity,” he added. “We want that to grow over the years.” The ad elements on followmatt .com include banner ads, a “sponsored by Hyundai” mention at the bottom of the home page and links to the company’s Web site (hyundaiusa.com) along with that logo on Mr. Lauer’s virtual ring of car keys. The Hyundai models being promoted on the microsite include Veracruz, a crossover sport utility, and the Sonata sedan. Coincidentally, as the Lauer promotion begins, Hyundai Motor America is wrapping up a review for the creative part of its account, which had been handled since 2002 by the Richards Group in Dallas. The company is hoping to select a new creative agency this week, Mr. Ewanick said.

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