NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a new Brazilian twist on the TV game-show format, Volkswagen is the star and contestants drive their old clunkers into the TV studio, hoping to leave the show behind the wheel of a zippy VW Fox.
"Zero Bala," named for a Portuguese slang term that means "brand new," debuted Nov. 15 on Brazil's TV Bandeirantes. The show was put together by Endemol, which creates entertainment programming formats, and VW's Brazilian agencies Almap BBDO and Bullet, a leading promotions shop.
To be eligible, cars have to be both old and have an intriguing history, said Fernando Figueiredo, president of Bullet. "Like the owner has had the car since he got married and now has three grandchildren," he said.
Keeping Volkswagen involved in every step, contestants can sign up for the show at VW dealerships, or online at TV Bandeirantes' siteband.com.br/zerobala. And anyone can play along and win small VW-related prizes like T-shirts and stickers by answering the questions posed on the show from their mobile phones.
The car owners chosen as "Zero Bala" contestants line up in their clunkers outside the studio and drive in one at a time to go through a barrage of multiple-choice general knowledge questions at each of six stoplights as the show airs live.
Only occupants of the car can answer questions, and contestants are free to cram as many people into their car as they want. That's part of the fun, Mr. Figueiredo said.
If a car makes it through the final stoplight, the occupants hop out and the car continues up a ramp to perch on a giant roulette wheel. The clunker's owner spins the wheel, and has about a 25% chance of winning a new Fox, an urban car made by Volkswagen, Brazil's No. 2 auto maker after Fiat.
As soon as the first car exits the roulette wheel, the next clunker drives into the studio. Usually three or four cars will participate each week.
"Volkswagen's intention is that one person per show wins a new car,"Mr. Figueirdo said.
The hour-long program, airing live on Sunday afternoons for an initial three months, is co-hosted by a model, Daniela Cicarelli, and a popular TV presenter, Otavio Mesquita.
Endemol has sold the new-car-for-a-clunker format as a show called "Go" in several other countries, including Argentina, but Bullet's innovation is putting Volkswagen at the center of the program rather than selling multiple sponsorships to different advertisers.
"We started a content division this year, but instead of creating an idea from scratch and spending a lot of money, we've taken an existing idea and adapted and packaged it," Mr. Figueiredo said.
His agency was acquired by Interpublic Group of Cos. in 2000, but bought itself back in 2006 to avoid losing its creative focus, he said.
One wildly successful Bullet creative idea was the iPod Popsicle, a re-invention of Unilever's tired summer ice cream bar promotion that had featured prize-winning Popsicle sticks for 20 years. Bullet creatives noticed while reading their iPod instruction manuals that an iPod can operate at temperatures below freezing. It dawned on them that they could put a prize -- an iPod Shuffle -- inside the Popsicle. After freezing their own iPods repeatedly as a test, they constructed a fake ice cream bar case that, with an iPod inside, was exactly the same size, weight, color and texture as ice cream maker Kibon's Fruttare Popsicle.
In the summer of 2008, 10,000 iPods went into freezer cases all over Brazil disguised as Fruttare bars. Sales rose 31%, Mr. Figueiredo said, and massive publicity ranged from a story in Gizmodo to countless blog posts. Bloggers were particularly interested in figuring out ways to detect which Popsicle were really iPod prizes, suggesting in their posts everything from attacking the freezer case with a metal detector to sticking pins in the Popsicle.