FROM AD AGE TODAY... Cabler Acts as Ad Shop to Create Spots That Show How Sports Fans Can Use Marketer's TVs, Laptops by Brian Steinberg NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Weaving advertising into a flagship ESPN property such as "SportsCenter" is old hat; what isn't so common is a media outlet helping to design advertising that ties products and services being sold to the very specific ways in which its viewers might use them. To help sell Toshiba TV sets and laptops, ESPN worked with the Japanese company to create advertising that illustrates specifically how ESPN fans could use those products. The ESPN-centric campaign represents "one of our efforts to reach sports fans while they are watching their favorite team in the living room or if they are on a laptop trying to check fantasy scores," said Eddie Temistokle, manager-corporate communications, Toshiba America. "We really want to engage the whole fan base." But to do so, a greater number of marketers have discovered, it helps to have the media outlet that brings viewers to the screen -- whether it be TV, computer or mobile -- helping to craft the message. Indeed, while Toshiba in the past has relied more on ads that are somewhat serious in tone, working with ESPN resulted in commercials that take a humorous approach, mostly because the audience seeing the pitches reacts well to that sort of execution. "This is a very different approach for Toshiba," said Maria Repole, associate VP-corporate communications at Toshiba America Consumer Products, who noted that many ads from technology marketers focus on "techs and specs." Instead, she added, "by adding humor, we really felt the ads could also resonate with ESPN enthusiasts." As part of the package, Toshiba will sponsor a weekly segment, starting Nov. 16, on ESPN's "SportsCenter" that asks fans to vote on an "innovative" sports play of the week, and it will steer them to SportsCenter.com and ESPN.com to do so. Toshiba will continue the promotion through December 2010, ESPN executives said. The sports channel helped create four different video ads, as well as digital elements to run on the websites. Custom ads The latest wrinkle in TV advertising is tailoring the commercials to the time and place in which they are seen, rather than spraying the ads all over the place and letting one commercial hit dozens of different categories of consumers. Media outlets have in recent months ramped up their efforts to create more specific reasons to advertise, instead of simply firing the same commercial in bazooka-like fashion at mass audiences. NBC Universal has developed ad programs for marketers seeking to target the environmentally-sensitive, female and the health-conscious. Likewise, ESPN came up with a narrowly focused "Football Friday" program for Wendy's earlier this year that placed the burger chain's ads across TV and digital venues and linked its message to weekend sports. As part of the effort, ESPN created a logo for Wendy's as well as a co-branded 30-second spot. These types of deals aren't easy to construct. ESPN spent about eight months brainstorming and talking with Toshiba executives, said Lynne Kraselsky, senior VP-sales and sponsorships, ESPN International. What happens, said Sean Hanrahan, senior VP-marketing solutions, ESPN, is that the media outlet develops a creative brief jointly with the advertiser. Both have input into the work as it is developed, including storyboards and the like. "We have a roster of agency production houses that we use. We gave the assignment to one," he explained. Having the ability to help a client devise relevant ads and promotions "provides a competitive advantage" for media concerns, he added. Building such capabilities can also help bring in more ad dollars. Toshiba has not been a big advertiser with ESPN in recent years, according to TNS Media Intelligence. After spending approximately $989,300 across ESPN in 2007, Toshiba does not appear to have been an ESPN client in 2008 or through August of 2009.