ABC and other TV networks routinely allow certain advertisers to weave their smartphones and cola cans into scripted comedies and dramas as part of a longstanding practice known as “product placement.” This Sunday, instead of just putting a Lexus into the next episode of its popular freshman series about FBI recruits, the Disney-owned broadcast outlet created a special virtual-reality segment of the program in which the automaker plays a major role.
It’s a maneuver that could bolster use of an emerging media environment. “There’s tremendous opportunity for storytelling in this space, and I think it offers unique opportunities,” said Jeffrey Weinstock, vice president and creative director at ABC Integrated Marketing, in an interview. Viewers “are going to actually be part of the world of the show.”
During the midseason return of “Quantico” this Sunday evening, a promotional banner will appear at the bottom of the TV screen suggesting viewers take a look at QuanticoVR.com. Upon arrival, viewers can go into the world of the program and assume the role of a new recruit on a mission with “Quantico” characters Shelby Wyatt (played by Johanna Braddy) and Caleb Haas (played by Graham Rogers) as they track down a target – all with the assistance of a Lexus LX 570 flagship SUV. Curious seekers who check out the scene, which should clock in at under three minutes and 30 seconds, will be rewarded not only with a 360-degree view of the action, but a few “Easter egg” reveals about the show and its storylines. The website will offer instructions for accessing the experience on desktop or via a Littlstar VR app for headsets, mobile and Apple TV. The segment was produced by “Quantico” showrunners and writers.
The network unveils the new-tech idea at a heady time. TV networks are gearing up to hawk new programs and intriguing advertising packages as part of the industry’s annual upfront marketplace, where U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. Many TV outlets will pitch their ability to create “custom” content that ties advertisers more directly to specific series and specials. Demonstrating a finesse with an emerging are like virtual reality could help ABC draw notice away from competitors.