NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Ford Motor Co. hasn't been a big purchaser of advertising in the CW network's younger-audience-skewing programs, preferring "The Game" and "Everybody Hates Chris" in recent seasons to "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill." Yet when Ford wanted to promote its Warriors in Pink breast-cancer awareness program, it arranged a tie-in with "90210," a CW series set among hip high-schoolers.
The series will begin a plotline this week featuring a longtime character, Jackie Taylor, the dysfunctional mother of Silver and her older half-sister Kelly Taylor, succumbing to the disease. The ad pact shows how a company's products and the causes it supports often require different marketing strategies.
In the past, Warriors in Pink has "been more about speaking to women on the older end of our demographic. Our message speaks to how people who haven't necessarily had the disease, but have been affected by it, can make a difference," said Alison Tarrant, senior VP-integrated sales and marketing at the CW network. Which means "90210" might be a better fit for the message than, say, "Girlfriends."
This sort of challenge seems more bound to come up with increased frequency than in the past, particularly as more mainstream TV outlets look to hook their programming to a particular cause or theme. At NBC Universal, executives have over the last few programming seasons trotted out initiatives to link ads and shows to the environment, women and, most recently, health. In October, for instance, NBC Universal announced an effort to align consumers and marketers with health-and-wellness content, with Campbell Soup agreeing to promote new, heart-healthy, lower-sodium soups as well as a heart-health awareness program, during two, multisegment health series on NBC's "Today" show and an MSNBC program featuring Dr. Nancy Snyderman.
In cases such as these, burnishing the theme in question may be more important than promoting any particular product. "If it's going to fit the cause, which is important to our brand, there will be a brand fit somewhere," said Connie Fontaine, manager-brand content and alliances, Ford Motor Co. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Ford had through October of this year purchased no ad time in buzzy CW programs such as "Gossip Girl," "Melrose Place" or "90210."
And, yes, Ford has found a way to bring a car into the mix. Ford will make its Fusion Hybrid part of a four-week "watch and win" sweepstakes starting tomorrow. Viewers must watch "90210" episodes between then and Dec. 8 to see ads that reveal keywords that can be used online or via mobile phone to enter a contest to win the Fusion car, which Ms. Fontaine said is aimed at a "environmental consumer mindset" and has fans among young female consumers.
The integration kicks off this week, when -- and consider this the requisite spoiler alert warning for "90210" fans -- Silver's mother succumbs to the disease. After her mother's death in the Nov. 17 episode, Silver is inspired to get involved with Ford's Warriors in Pink program. By the Dec. 8 episode of the show, she will be spotted wearing a T-shirt from the organization as well as asking classmates at West Beverly High to sponsor her as she runs a 5K Race for the Cure for breast-cancer research, which she will run in her mother's honor.
Actress Jessica Stroup, who plays Silver, will appear in a public-service announcement during the Ford Warriors in Pink episode, which will push viewers to fordcares.com.
Cause-related ventures aren't always the easiest to put in place; advertisers ought to have some history with the theme they are trying to promote. "Typically, with a pro-social initiative, we'll only partner up with people that have true credibility in that space," said the CW's Ms. Tarrant. "We find that advertisers are also very sensitive and don't just jump on board. If we're talking about the environment, they want to make sure that we are also walking the walk." Ford has partnered with the nonprofit Susan G. Komen breast-cancer organization for more than 15 years.