CW Opens Driveway For Hard-to-Ignore Ford Ad Effort

Network Stars to Tout Ford Focus in Three Ads Per Hour Across Most Shows

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Katerina Graham ('The Vampire Diaries') and Michael Steeger ('90210') on the set of the CW's Ford Showroom.
Katerina Graham ('The Vampire Diaries') and Michael Steeger ('90210') on the set of the CW's Ford Showroom. Credit: The CW

In an effort to secure viewers' attention despite all the distractions and DVR capabilities that can get in the way, the CW and Ford Motor are collaborating on a campaign that will include three ads every hour in most of the network's prime-time lineup this week, all featuring actors and actresses from the CW's shows.

Starting tonight, the CW will run 24 different customized commercials for the Ford Focus, part of a broad effort that will have talent from "Vampire Diaries," "Gossip Girl" and "90210" telling viewers about different aspects of the vehicle and giving viewers the chance to win one while offering sneak peeks from upcoming season finales.

The network has almost since its inception offered advertisers the chance to run long-form commercials tailored to the programs in which they appear, but this campaign aims to up the ante.

The spots -- which will run during commercial breaks, not promo time, despite partly promoting the network -- mark the first time the CW has run a "unified" campaign for itself, said Alison Tarrant, exec VP-integrated sales and marketing at the CW, which is jointly owned by CBS and Time Warner. "We've never taken our talent from all of our shows and pulled them together to go under one network campaign with an advertiser," she said. "Everything we've always done has been isolated show by show."

As the economy has improved, and the fortunes of automakers along with it, car companies have been pushing for bolder ad executions that are harder for consumers -- armed with remote controls, DVRs and computer mousse -- to ignore outright. Witness the near-constant presence of General Motors' Chevrolet Cruze in CBS's "Hawaii Five-0," appearing in almost every episode along with a promotional "bumper" video before the first ad break featuring the program's popular theme.

Networks face many kinks trying to put such stuff into practice. The CW's customized Ford Focus campaign will not run during two CW shows -- "Nikita" and "Hellcats" -- that already have relationships with other automakers. Kia appears regularly during "Nikita" and Toyota has a significant presence in "Hellcats."

CW actors appearing in the Ford ads include Michael Steeger ("90210"), Tika Sumpter ("Gossip Girl"), Robert Buckley ("One Tree Hill"), Nigel Barker ("America's Next Top Model"), Sara Rue ("Shedding for the Wedding"), Katerina Graham ("The Vampire Diaries") and Cassidy Freeman ("Smallville"). One Ford Focus will be given away on each of the five nights of the sweepstakes.

The CW effort hearkens back to the network's roots. The channel debuted in 2006 after being cobbled together from Time Warner's WB network and CBS Corp.'s UPN. At WB, cast members were often tapped to tout advertisers' good and services. In 2004, for instance, actors on the WB's "7th Heaven," "Reba" and "One Tree Hill" (a show that survives on CW) all wore Kmart apparel in selected episodes while also appearing in ads for the retailer.

Ford believes using actors from CW shows will help boost the commercials' interest and recall among younger female viewers, said Crystal Worthem, Ford's brand content and alliances manager. "It is a younger female that we would love to reach, and it is hard to find her in mass media," she said. "These are characters that they love in shows they love, interacting with the new car."

Just as each ad will feature different CW stars, so too will different spots center on different Ford Focus features, several of them truly aimed at a younger customer. One spot will talk about the Focus's "audible text messaging," in which drivers can have the car "read" text messages they receive. Another touts the ability to start the Focus with the push of a button, while others will discuss "voice-activated navigation" and "active park assistance," Ms. Worthem said.

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