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Ford parks Harley pickup in a syndicated TV series

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Ford Motor Co. has a better idea than mere product placement.

Ford Division inked a yearlong deal with the TNN cable network for its upcoming co-branded Harley-Davidson F-150 pickup to co-star in its new show, "18 Wheels of Justice," debuting in January. The pact includes a watch-and-win sweepstakes, an undisclosed media buy during the program and a national tour.

"I try to find natural associations," said Warren Weideman, president of Park Avenue Productions, who is executive producer of the TV show, and brought the co-marketing deal to Ford Division's ad agency, J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit. Consumers become alienated with products that don't have authentic tie-ins to TV programs, he said.

Mr. Weideman said he had done business with Ford and the agency before he sold his product placement company, Krown, to Young & Rubicam in 1988.

GOOD MATCH

The Ford-TNN marriage is a great match, Mr. Weideman said, because the new show will use country music and appeal to rodeo and motorsport aficionados.

Mr. Weideman said he bought the rights for the show from a book of the same name published in the 1980s. It's based on an actual federal agent who goes undercover as a tractor-trailer driver to fight crime.

The 22-episode show debuts Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. (ET) and is rebroadcast Saturdays at 7 p.m. Lucky Vanous, best known as the bare-chested construction worker in past Diet Coke commercials, stars as the undercover agent (AA, Oct. 11). His big rig is made by Kenworth Truck Co. -- also the result of product placement. When not driving the 18-wheeler, Mr. Vanous drives his Harley-Ford pickup. The cast includes Billy Dee Williams and G. Gordon Liddy.

NO DEDICATED ADS

Ford's media buy during the program won't be for the new pickup, which won't get dedicated advertising because it's a limited-production vehicle. Ford introduced the co-branded pickup in August at the Sturgis, S.D., motorcycle rally, a weeklong event that attracts 350,000 bikers. Ford will start selling the limited-edition pickup in early spring as a 2000 model.

Roughly 10,000 will be made and Ford has said the vehicle will change every year. Harley and Ford have a five-year deal that succeeds and exceeds the motorcycle maker's pact with DaimlerChrysler's Dodge Division.

The Harley F-150 pickup started a product display tour earlier this year and will visit up to 35 venues in 2000, said Peter Stroh, director of lifestyle marketing at JWT.

Mr. Weideman predicts more similar product placement deals, noting that TV advertisers should be concerned with the arrival of personal video recorders like TiVo that allow viewers to zip past TV commercials. To counter that, he suggests TV advertisers "should be more associated with the story-telling and their products' part in the story without being forced."

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