Chevrolet Set to Drive Into Fox's 'X Factor'

Judges in Cars Will Talk up Technology, but Fox Is Shepherding Sponsorships Carefully

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General Motors' deal with Fox's upcoming talent competition "X Factor" will promote Chevrolet vehicles, the automaker has confirmed, continuing GM's aggressive push to flank TV's biggest events with ads and integrations from Chevrolet. Fox and "X Factor" producers are taking pains, however, to make sure the sponsorship isn't so aggressive that viewers feel caught in the headlights.

Chevrolet will be the official automotive sponsor of the much-anticipated Fox program.

While details of the alliance are still being nailed down, the deal will likely result in various types of Chevrolet vehicles prominently appearing in the course of the season, suggested Keith Hindle, CEO Americas, FremantleMedia Enterprises, one of the program's producers.

"X Factor" features "a lot of telephoning of judges and discussions of the groups they represent" as they travel to coach various contestants, said Mr. Hindle. "That gives us the ability to amp that up a bit and feature in-car technology. That was one of the key hooks."

Because the Chevrolet brand is the umbrella for makes such as the Suburban, the Camaro, the Volt and the Cruze, he said, producers knew they would be able to select different vehicles to emphasize whatever story they were trying to tell at different points of the season. Chevrolet will also be the exclusive automotive sponsor of off-air and digital promotions related to "X Factor," said Jean Rossi, Fox's exec VP-sales.

When it comes to Chevrolet, "there will be several instances of formal integration that will happen across the season, or on a specific number" of episodes, Mr. Hindle said. "There will also be passive placement of vehicles, running more broadly throughout the season. Those are the things we are negotiating."

Indeed, the task of juggling "X Factor" sponsorships can be a little tricky. Fox executives have structured "X Factor" deals to accommodate a broader array of marketing partners than its long-running hit "American Idol." While "Idol" enjoys big ad dollars from season-long sponsors Coca-Cola, Ford Motor and AT&T, those brands' continuous, central roles on the show make it harder to involve rival soft drink, auto and telecom marketers.

Only lead sponsor Pepsi will enjoy that sort of treatment season-long. Chevrolet may be broadly featured in "passive placement" during the program's first season, explained Ms. Rossi, but only a few episodes will feature more obvious "integrations," or overt references to the autos. "Of course, the ink is still wet on this deal," she said. "We're just getting this covered, but other autos will in fact be running on air" in the form of 30-second commercials when "X Factor" episodes do not contain overt Chevrolet integrations.

Ms. Rossi and Chevrolet declined to discuss the cost of the "X Factor" alliance. Pepsi reportedly paid around $60 million to be the lead sponsor of "X Factor." Fox has been negotiating big sponsorships for the program separately from the prime-time ad-sales talks held during the recent "upfront" process, when the big networks sell the bulk of their ad time for the new fall season, Ms. Rossi said. Fox recently completed its upfront by securing just under $2 billion in ad commitments for its coming prime-time schedule.

For auto marketers, spotlighting gee-whiz dashboard capabilities has taken on new importance. In recent TV seasons, viewers of CBS's "The Good Wife" were given an up-close tour of a Buick dashboard, which allowed a character to receive email while behind the wheel. A new campaign on the CW for the Ford Focus featured characters from the network's shows highlighting such in-vehicle features as "audible text messaging," "voice-activated navigation" and "active park assistance."

GM has been particularly bold with Chevrolet since trying to reorganize its operations after taking government assistance during the recent recession. Chevy cars have appeared most notably in CBS's "Hawaii Five-0," where character Danno was once spotted talking to his colleague about the pursuit of a new "2010 silver Chevy Malibu" with a built-in "vehicle recovery system." What's more, Chevy ads often appear preceded by special Chevrolet-styled "bumper" videos that play the program's popular theme song. GM aired five different ads for Chevrolet in the most recent Super Bowl telecast airing on Fox and has been an active sponsor of Fox's "Glee" since the show's first season.

"We want to be more a part of culturally relevant events, here in the U.S. as well a globally," explained Kevin Mayer, director of advertising and sales promotion for Chevrolet. How does "X Factor" fit in? "We see this as one of the next big things on television," he added.

Expect Chevrolet to continue its push. In an era when TV viewers are prone to skip past old-school TV advertising with the help of a DVR, and in which proliferating entertainment options are eroding traditional TV audiences, marketers have to identify and dominate the programs that will best reach a specific group of consumers, suggested Mr. Mayer. "The more you can be a part of the show itself in an organic way -- that 's really the caveat -- the greater connection you can have with the audience," he explained. "That's what everyone is trying for."

Well, maybe not everyone -- at least when it comes to "X Factor." While a full complement of advertisers are likely to do the usual 30-second ad support of the program, both Fox's Ms. Rossi and Fremantle's Mr. Hindle suggested "X Factor" is likely to take on just three to four big sponsors, a deliberate effort to avoid cluttering the show too much and to let producers test various techniques without having to juggle too many sponsors at once.

The show's backers, which include host Simon Cowell's SyCo production firm, are also looking at how "X Factor" is shaping up in terms of contestants and possible storylines in order to identify the ad categories that might fit most seamlessly. "We're looking at it from a different point of view," Ms. Rossi said. "We're taking a look at what are the most organic categories that could work."

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