Advertisers Tackle the Dual Screen Problem with New Ads

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More than three-quarters (87 percent) of Americans are watching television while holding onto their Smartphones or tablets.

Most of this second screen usage has nothing to do with the show or movie they are watching, according market research company NPD Group. That divided attention can spell trouble for advertisers who are missing out on views of their commercials. 

Taking advantage of the two-screen trend. Target, on the other hand, is seizing the opportunity to grab the attention of potential customers who are multitasking with mobile devices in hand by featuring dozens of products on an upcoming episode of “Cougar Town.” The episode will be simulcast online at where tablet users can click to purchase items featured in the show.

Over 25 products from designer Nate Berkus’s Target line will be featured, all of which can be purchased by clicking on the flashing red icon on the tablet screen. The collection of items was designed to be versatile and usable in any home – which fits in with the plot of the episode and is meant to appeal to viewers enough to motivate them to buy.

A new era in product placement. This approach could mark a new era of product placement. The products are integrated into the sets, but are also featured as part of a subplot in the episode. As a cover for the product placement, one of the characters goes on a shopping spree at Target and then spends the plot redecorating and arranging items. There was a similar integration in the fourth season with two male characters spending time at a Target store, but that instance did not include enhanced shopping opportunities.

According to Frank Sgrizzi, the executive vice president on Turner Entertainment who oversees TBS and TNT, their “Cougar Town” audience is likely to be Target shoppers. The show is popular with women 18 to 49, a group that is also likely to be technically savvy and viewing a second screen while watching TV. The characters in the show also seem like they would shop at Target, so the product placement makes sense.

“We know that Target and ‘Cougar Town’ was a perfect marriage, so we weren’t worried about having Target as a character woven into the show,” he said, “These things would absolutely happen in episodes and wouldn’t seem like a stretch.”

How will it work? After the new episode airs, the full version of the episode with the products highlighted by the flashing symbols will remain online through April 15 at When a viewer clicks to shop, the episode conveniently pauses to allow for the purchase to be made. Target consumers are considered to be digitally skilled, and customer surveys have shown that they are actively looking for decorating ideas.

The special episode is also paired with videos on the Target website and official YouTube channel. The special videos featuring Berkus and “Cougar Town” set director Cynthia McCormac will also highlight products and offer a “click to buy” opportunity for viewers.

Target has declined to reveal how much it is spending on the promotion. The company spent $464.3 million on advertising in the first nine months of 2013 and $647 million in 2012, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.

Helping Target’s image, too. In addition to testing out a new advertising model, the efforts could also help assuage some consumer fear over last year’s security network hack. Over 40 million shoppers at physical Target stores had their credit and debit card information put at risk after hackers tapped into the store’s security network. Seeing familiar characters shopping a Target and using new products could restore faith in the brand.

However, some analysts are not so sure that the enhanced product placement will work. Jeff Greenfield, co-founder of C3 Metrics, an advertising analytics company, reviewed the click-to-buy viewing experience and found it distracting. Only time will tell if viewers think the same thing. If the product placement advertising programs works, this could be the sign of things to come for second screens. It could combine the audience’s need to browse while watching, and media buyers’ need to get their advertising attention.

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