LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- In a dismal year for automotive sales and marketing success stories, branded entertainment has produced some of the few bright spots.
General Motors saw qualified leads for its former Saab brand outnumber the cars it had available to sell via a customized promotion with USA's "Burn Notice," while Subaru is seeing record sales periods on the strength of an integrated marketing strategy that entered its second upfront season this year. And Hyundai, Ad Age's Marketer of the Year, saw a boost when it bought up prime ad inventory in this year's Super Bowl and Academy Awards telecasts.
So it's no surprise Nissan's Infiniti is expanding its relationship with Sundance Channel's "Spectacle: Elvis Costello With ...," which returns for its second season Dec. 9. The series features Mr. Costello interviewing and performing duets with an array of A-list guests, ranging from U2's Bono and The Edge to Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow. Each episode will feature two custom vignettes sponsored by Infiniti, called "Inspiration Sessions," pairing famous musicians with their producers -- Scissor Sisters with Elton John and David Gray with his producer, Iestyn Polson, among others.
Because Sundance Channel does not accept traditional advertising, Inifiniti will receive other branding opportunities from the network throughout the seven-episode series, including front-of-venue placement and title sponsorship on the show's marquee at the Apollo Theater, as well as interviews with Infiniti executives during custom segments of "Suncovered," Sundance Channel's news program.
In return, Infiniti will use the "Inspiration Sessions" clips to promote the show's second season online through its own social-media marketing, including tie-ins with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and key music sites, as well as sponsor "takeover" ads for "Spectacle" on New York subways.
Kathy Roznowski, Infiniti's senior media manager, said the series and the "Inspiration Sessions" have become a larger part of Infiniti's consumer marketing strategy this season because the branded-entertainment efforts sync up with the auto brand's promise of "inspired performance."
"We need to deliver inspiration in everything we do, from the performance of the vehicle to hospitality in consumers feeling they're getting peace of mind or quality," she said. "What these clips will be able to do is inspire fans to take them into the social space, to help us promote these artists pairings by sharing them with their friends."
The sponsorship is not tied to a particular Infiniti vehicle, as the promotion is more of a general branding play. "We ultimately want people to experience all our vehicles, so we're trying to talk more from the level of the brand itself. It's not about a sales event," Ms. Roznowski said.
Not that Infiniti couldn't use a sales boost. The Nissan imprint's October sales were down 9.3% from the same month in 2008, following a 15% year-over-year decline in September. However, recent launch Inifniti QX56 has shown promising growth, boosting sales by more than 50% since September.
But audience metrics from a customized OTX study during "Spectacle's" first season suggest that Sundance consumers are more likely than others to consider or ultimately purchase an Infiniti vehicle.
Kim Gabelmann, Sundance's senior VP-branded entertainment and sponsorship, said one half of Sundance Channel viewers polled said they would add Infiniti to their purchase consideration after seeing "Spectacle" and the "Inspiration Sessions" vignettes. Additionally, two out of five respondents who have never owned an Infiniti said their brand opinion was boosted as a direct result of the series. "Our model is really about working with like-minded consumer brands to create great content that's additive to the viewer experience," Ms. Gabelmann said.