How Land Rover Convinced Bourdain to Try Product Placement

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Anthony Bourdain Behind the wheel of Land Rover in CNN digital series
Anthony Bourdain Behind the wheel of Land Rover in CNN digital series Credit: Parts Unknown, CNN, Roads & Kingdoms

Anthony Bourdain is not a fan of product placements -- a point he made abundantly clear in 2012 when he lashed out at the Travel Channel over its use of footage from his show in Cadillac ads that he said he never approved.

"My inclination, I should point out, has always been to do NO product integration of ANY kind," he said in a rant after the incident posted on his blog. And he was not kind to Cadillac on Twitter.

But this year another luxury auto brand, Land Rover, convinced Bourdain to give it prime product placement as part of its exclusive launch sponsorship of a digital extension of CNN's "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown" TV show. It represents the chef-turned TV star's first brand integration deal with CNN, although it won't extend to TV, according to CNN-owner Turner.

The "Explore Parts Unknown" digital travel site, which debuted in April, includes an original video series that features Bourdain on a culinary journey through Spain. Land Rover's new Discovery SUV is featured prominently. In the opening scene of the first video he pops out of a white Discovery after driving it through a narrow street in Barcelona. Land Rover's deal includes co-branded promotional spots on TV that that drive viewers to the site.

Separately, Land Rover is running a new TV spot directed by Jake Scott for the Discovery featuring the Ben Ainslie Racing sailing team. The British brand holds the title sponsorship of the team, which is competing for the U.K. in the America's Cup at the end of May in Bermuda.

Land Rover also struck a deal with the Travel Channel and New York Times on a live digital video content play featuring Josh Gates, host of Travel Channel's "Expedition Unknown," on a tour through Oregon.

Ad Age recently caught up with Kim McCullough, VP-marketing for Jaguar Land Rover North America, and the marketer's media specialist, Taylor Hoel. We got their take on Bourdain, the SUV market and how they are approaching the upfronts. (They secured the Bourdain deal during last year's upfronts.) Below, a lightly edited transcript.

What is it like to work with Anthony Bourdain? Remember Cadillac? He doesn't seem too receptive to product placement. Has he evolved on this?

Hoel: I don't know if it's a total evolution, but I think what's really important for us as a brand is making sure that we are being true to the voice of the place we are advertising in. We try not to be too heavy handed with the messaging. It really has to be a good fit with the editorial.

McCullough: It is unusual for him to do something like this. It's really important from an audience standpoint that something feels seamless, that it doesn't feel like all of the sudden there is this product there that shouldn't be there or isn't in its natural habitat. That is another reason why in this case he accepted this type of partnership and thought it would work for him.

Did you guys meet with him?

Hoel: No. But we've been in very close conversation with his team and the entire CNN team has been great.

Have you struck any upfront deals this year? What are you seeing that interests you?

Hoel: We've not struck any deals to date. But I think the space to really watch is over-the-top and new content that is going to be streaming on those connected television devices. Obviously engagement with mobile is through the roof, but I think there still is place for that big screen in the living room. And so the evolution of content and the types of content we are going to be seeing on that big screen from new providers or through extensions of old providers is really the place for us to watch this year.

What percentage of your TV and related spending do you commit to in the upfronts versus throughout the year?

McCullough: A majority of our television goes into the upfront. It is still an advantage from a financial standpoint. We still get a better rate from upfront versus scatter. We do have a smaller budget than our competitors so we have to be as efficient as possible in how we go to market.

TV is not cheap. How do you make it work for you, knowing you probably can't blanket the airwaves with your budget?

McCullough: It is a very broad medium and from a cost per thousand standpoint it is still a very efficient way to reach a lot of peoplle. How we go to market on TV is more specific than just big broad, broad buys on the networks. Most of our efforts are focused in cable television.

Hoel: Cable, with the proliferation of so many different networks that speak to really specific passions, actually gives us a great opportunity to carve out a unique space for both Jaguar and Land Rover. So each of those brands represent different types of lifestyles and attract different people with unique passions. And so cable is actually a really good way for us to play up those passions of a target audience.

Where are you finding the most luxury, high-end buyers? What channels, what programming?

Hoel: It really is a mix of lifestyle … like travel, like epicurean. News obviously gets a really affluent audience as well so that's a really good place for us to fish. And we still see really great performance with live sports, which is obviously a little bit more broad, but it is that appointment viewing that really high engaging.

What is your favorite sport to buy in?

Hoel: College basketball in particular does really well for us. You do have that affluent audience that is rooting for their alma mater and tuning in.

Some of the booming SUV market is driven by people who drive them in the city. Some might call them off-road posers. Do you target people who are actually taking the vehicles into rugged territory?

McCullough: We often use the analogy with high-end watches that are safe for 40 fathoms deep. Now, no one is going to go scuba diving that deep, but they want to know that they have something that is engineered to that level, so that is part of the appeal. In the Northeast when you have inclement weather, when you have a lot of rain or flooding, being able to know that, 'Hey I can get out of this situation because I do have a capable product' is absolutely part of the appeal.

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