Madison+Vine: AmEx turns 'Wheel' payoff from green to blue in promo

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Hoping for a blue Christmas, American Express Co. will saturate "Wheel of Fortune" with the color in an unusually extensive deal with the syndicated game show.

The effort splashes AmEx's Blue Cash brand on nearly every piece of the "Wheel" set, including the famed wheel itself, Dec. 8-19. As part of the promotion, centering on a $250,000 cash sweepstakes, AmEx will paint the "Wheel" set blue and give away blue cars and trips to see the Blue Man Group. The rewards card's 5% cash-back message will be sprinkled in other ways throughout the weeks on "Wheel," from the $5,000 giveaway to five people each night during the two weeks to $5,000 prizes on the wheel. The Sony Pictures Television show will even feature a blue bank vault with blue cash spilling out and letter turner Vanna White will sport bright blue outfits.

"We weren't interested in pure product placement in something like a sitcom," said Richard Quigley, AmEx senior VP-global advertising and brand management. "We wanted to be more embedded in the content."

"It's saturation, but we don't think it's overdone," said the program's executive producer Harry Friedman. "It's one of the most comprehensive promotions we've done."

more latitude

AmEx launched Blue Cash, a brand extension of its 4-year-old Blue Card, in late September. The ad campaign for Blue Cash, from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, continues into 2004. AmEx has bartered such deals before, with sponsorship and product placement in NBC's "The Restaurant" and an ad campaign with celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito.

There's more latitude with a game show and there's an "actively engaged audience" of 17 million viewers for "Wheel," Mr. Quigley said. "They're not surfing away during the show," he said. "That environment is very enticing."

AmEx will support the promotion with full-page ads in News Corp.'s TV Guide and Time Inc.'s People, TV spots, and online ads on its own site and across Microsoft Corp.'s MSN network, which hosts the "Wheel" site. Sony also plans a targeted e-mail campaign. Ms. White will plug the online component during the show, and tune-in messages will contain the URL. Sony Pictures Digital Networks, a new Sony division created to forge strategic alliances with advertisers, brokered the deal.

"We're trying to hit consumers through multiple touch points, both on-and off-line," said Mike Arrieta, the group's senior VP-strategic alliances. "We're wrapping those worlds together."

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