When he played Jack Bauer in "24," Kiefer Sutherland outmaneuvered terrorists, mad bombers and other threats to national security. Now he's teaming with Unilever to conquer the world.
In a move loaded with challenges, News Corp.will simultaneously launch a Fox drama starring Mr. Sutherland, called "Touch," in more than 100 countries with a global marketing effort from Unilever. Advertising for the popular deodorant known as Sure in the U.K., Degree in the U.S. and Rexona everywhere else will accompany the effort.
The concept, which took more than a year to organize, illustrates the pressures big media companies face as digital technology and social media make it easier for consumers worldwide to follow TV programs. It also shows advertisers' demand to court them.
"People feel so connected now, and they can, via the internet, know exactly what's happening in the U.S.," said Marion Edwards, president-international television, Twentieth Century Fox Film Distribution. "They can access episodes immediately after they air here. They can follow on Twitter. It's all part of this huge informational universe where everyone feels very up to the moment."
But finding a piece of content that reaches them all at a single moment is tough. In a typical process, it often takes months for a U.S. TV program to debut on foreign shores. Dialogue has to be dubbed and tweaked for different audiences. Promotions and marketing materials that appeal to various cultures have to be designed. While various News Corp. divisions can broadcast "Touch" in different parts of the world, the company isn't everywhere, and in some instances had to tap outside partners to ensure "Touch" and Unilever had proper scale.
"It's totally rare," said Shari Cohen, executive director at WPP's MindShare, who represents Unilever and supervised Ellen Ferrari, a MindShare managing director who helped put the program into place.
But more marketers may want just this sort of opportunity -- particularly as different companies gain the ability to distribute their products on a broader scale and want to winnow the number of agencies overseeing their accounts. At Unilever, executives simply wanted a megaphone to help them talk to a broader audience. "This type of global sponsorship enables us to connect and engage consumers around the world with one culturally relevant content platform," said Luis DiComo, senior VP-global media for Unilever.
"Touch," debuting March 19, features Mr. Sutherland as the father of an emotionally challenged 11-year-old boy who can predict events around the world.
The show "will touch all areas of the globe and have characters speaking in their native languages for authenticity, which was a unique approach and obviously quite relevant to Unilever," said Mr. DiComo.
Launching shows in this manner could give U.S. TV networks a greater ability to capture ad dollars from global clients. Unilever's media buy for the show will encompass Europe, Asia, Latin America and the U.S. "Touch" will appear in more than 160 markets, on such outlets as Global Television in Canada, Sky 1 in the U.K., ProSieben in Germany, Yes TV in Israel and Channel One in Russia. Fox International Channels is launching "Touch" in 64 countries throughout Latin America, Asia and Europe.
Unilever will also sponsor an international media tour in which Mr. Sutherland will hopscotch around the globe to various events. Exclusive online content from "Touch" will be presented by Unilever products. And to get the word out, News Corp. has designed a "global" Facebook page for the show. The norm, executives said, is to create lots of different pages for different international audiences.
Will the effort be worth it? If News Corp. can create a template, "we can work with the client to say we may want more in certain regions than they normally would spend," said Jean Rossi, president of Fox One, News Corp.'s cross-media sales division.
This may be the business of the future. "We are definitely getting more and more questions" from clients, she said. Automotive marketers, who typically launch vehicles around the world over a course of a few months, could also be potential customers.
"It's the only way to think about the future in the marketing and distribution of content," said Liz Dolan, chief marketing officer for Fox International Channels.