The result: Card members are eagerly plugging in their numbers to access the content, with each exclusive offering attracting more than 500,000 visits this season so far.
More than 500,000 TV viewers responded to American Express' spots prompting them to log into a special 'Prison Break' microsite to access additional show-related content.
The goal is simple: super-serve the loyalists and sew the seeds of envy among the rest.
For the past decade, American Express has used its deep roots in entertainment to give its cardholders early access to tickets for live concerts, plays and other events. This fall, the marketer expanded that platform further across TV and online media, giving customers early sneak peeks and exclusive video content from Fox's hit thriller "Prison Break" and ABC's mystery serial "Lost."
Viewers were prompted by ads during the shows, on websites and in print to visit microsites set up by AmEx for each show and plug in their credit-card numbers to access the content.
The "Prison Break" microsite and the "Lost and Found" page at ABC.com/Lost have logged more than 500,000 visits apiece so far this season.
"We've learned over the years that when we send messages to our members, they're very likely to respond," said Jim Hedleston, AmEx's VP-global brand media and content distribution. "We're giving them a valuable commodity."
He wouldn't specify if the program has drawn in new customers but said the marketer has seen an upswing in its "passive acquisitions," in which consumers seek out AmEx rather than the company soliciting them. Most of those new customers are applying online, he said.
The marketer likes the "low barrier to entry" of offering exclusive TV content online to its cardholders, and has extended the ABC deal to cover the three months that "Lost" is on hiatus, Mr. Hedleston said. Other TV-centric programs are in the works for first-quarter 2007.
Meanwhile, Fox executives said the exclusive "Prison Break" content likely wouldn't exist if it weren't for the involvement of a heavyweight sponsor.
The deals came about because, earlier this year, AmEx executives approached Fox and ABC about forging multimedia partnerships, and network sales teams offered up a few of their prized projects. "Lost" and "Prison Break" worked for AmEx because of the young, upscale audience each show attracts. Viewers are known to be somewhat obsessive over the series, which are referred to as "lean forward" shows that audiences watch intently. MindShare Entertainment, working on behalf of AmEx, helped put the project together.
Fans have learned about the exclusive advertiser-sponsored content through 15-second spots that air during the series. Those spots, produced by the networks' promotions teams, were given to AmEx as added value for the marketer's overall media commitment. The media buy includes a campaign that features comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, via AmEx's agency Ogilvy North America.
The response from cardholders has been "very positive," Mr. Hedleston said, and it helps stoke "that envy factor" among those who aren't in the fold.
Though "Lost" and "Prison Break" draw heavily on teens and young adults, the promotion isn't an attempt to age down any demographics, AmEx executives say. Rather, it's a blanket outreach to the millions of die-hard fans.
On the first Monday of the current November sweeps, "Prison Break" drew 8.6 million total viewers and ranked first in its time period among men 18-34 and among adults 18-34 (tied with NBC's "Deal or No Deal"). A recent episode of "Lost," a cliffhanger that won't be resolved until February, if then, pulled in 17.1 million total viewers.
As opposed to AmEx's special-access events, which have a limited number of tickets or seats available, the TV content can be viewed by an unlimited number of people. The reach and potential impact are greater with such a program, Mr. Hedleston said.
The marketer has had experience with upscale programming before, sponsoring the live "presidential" debate on NBC's now-canceled "West Wing" and, more recently, exclusive behind-the-scenes online footage from Discovery Channel's "Atlas."
AmEx has been so pleased with the "Lost" program that it's extended the relationship with ABC into the new drama "Day Break," which launches in the former "Lost" slot at 9 p.m. Wednesdays.
"Lost" is on hiatus until February to allow the network to run the entire season without repeats. In its place, "Day Break," starring Taye Diggs, premieres tonight. AmEx-sponsored "Lost moments" will air during the show, with a new piece rolling out each week, intended to keep up the fan interest and conversations while the show is off the air.
The ad-sales team at Fox has bartered a number of deals that marry marketers with entertainment on TV, online, DVD and wireless. Giving consumers exclusive content isn't as easy as it may look, and having advertisers attached makes all the difference.
"It's about building out marketing partnerships," said Jean Rossi, exec VP-sales and president-integrated sales at Fox.
AmEx executives said they've seen some viral spinoff from the program, with cardholders blogging and chatting online about the exclusive content. That extends the footprint of the tactic and shows the rabid fan interest. Some have shared information with noncustomers that allows them to get inside the so-called gated area to see the new trailers and content. Executives at the marketer aren't encouraging that, but they're not too upset about it either.