Flash-Mob Concerts, Webisodes and Placements in 'Smallville' and '24'

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LOS ANGELES -- As the car industry struggles to generate heat around some of its new vehicles, automakers are looking for all the help they can get to drive consumers into dealerships.
A Ford Fusion has played a prominent role in the plot of 'Smallville.'

An increasing number of them are now relying on a more-is-more strategy of multiple entertainment opportunities happening concurrently across various media to promote their new models, rather than one-off links in major movies or TV shows. And we’re not talking simple product placements.

Young women a primary target

For its Fusion sedan, the company is courting the elusive 18- to 34-year-old buyer with a major slate of brand integration in popular TV shows, music and Webisodes. The marketer has been particularly aggressive recently about reaching out to women, a primary target of the strong-selling midsized model that launched last fall.

It has created flash-mob concerts, Webisodes, viral campaigns and mockumentaries to whip up interest in the Fusion, which sold more than 17,000 units after its launch in late '05.

But it’s also tackled the toughest area -- scripted programming -- working with Fox's "24" and WB's "Smallville" in addition to reality shows like "American Idol."

The moves underscore the importance of entertainment in reaching a young-adult audience and the increasing interest from brands in using nontraditional marketing tactics and exploiting that audience's ties to cutting-edge content.

"We're saying we're a cool brand," said Linda Perry-Lube, Ford car communications manager. "We're not a Taurus anymore."

Season-long 'Smallville' integration

As part of an upfront ad buy, Ford negotiated a season-long integration into the WB's young-skewing Superman drama "Smallville," with the Lois Lane character driving a Fusion. An episode that aired during November sweeps featured the character and the car prominently.

There were a number of loving shots of her red Fusion during the episode, beginning with the opening scene in which the car was a symbol of Ms. Lane's new-found independence. The car also played a key role as Ms. Lane and another character did some snooping around a warehouse and sped away to avoid being caught.

Though Ford is a longtime WB advertiser, it was the first brand integration on one of the network's shows, and executives said they had no backlash from the loyal "Smallville" fans.

"These fans are very passionate and very quick to sniff out something that doesn't make sense," said Alison Tarrant, VP-integrated marketing. "The producers worked in the car very naturally."

The marketer, with agency JWT, outlined the car's attributes for the producers and then stepped back on the creative process, Ms. Tarrant said. The result was a scene in which a security guard at the warehouse tells Ms. Lane he likes her car and she lets him sit inside. She says the car has "lots of really cool buttons" and "pop-up thingies." She never mentions the brand name, but the face plate is clearly visible in a number of shots.

Well beyond product placement

It was important that the Fusion play a role in the story rather than just being a prop, Ms. Tarrant said. "Most clients are well beyond placement at this point," she said. "They're looking for something more meaningful."

Attached to the placement was a watch-and-win sweepstakes in which viewers were asked to identify a song playing on the Fusion's radio in the warehouse scene.

The WB ran on-air promotions, online and print ads touting the integration and sweepstakes under the tagline, "Smallville could be your key to a Ford Fusion."

The episode was the highest-rated "Smallville" to date, with especially strong numbers in the male 18-34 demographic.

There were 89,400 contest entries in 10 days, and 5,502 of those people requested more information on the Fusion. The winner received a Fusion from Erica Durance, who plays Ms. Lane on the show, this past weekend.

Ford isn’t the only automaker with entertainment on the brain.

Other car makers take same approach

Honda, General Motors and Toyota have all recently relied on multiple brand integrations in films, TV series, video games, Web content and other entertainment to help launch new vehicles. GM's Pontiac utilized prominent placements in "Survivor," "Las Vegas" and other shows to launch its Torrent crossover SUV late last year.

And Ford is no stranger to integrating its newest vehicles in entertainment. The automaker has long been associated with “24” and had its Focus cars and F-150 truck written into episodes of “Alias.”

But the company is hoping that a number of prime integrations in multiple episodes of high-profile shows that appeal to a variety of audiences, rather than one-off appearances, will make its Fusion more attractive to consumers.

The “Smallville” appearance is just one of several entertainment-centric efforts Ford is using to target women with its Fusion.

The marketer, which has had a long-standing corporate relationship with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure, has created a concept called Fusion Studio D this year to try to reach further into women's lives with the automaker’s "Life in Drive" campaign.

Ford's new Studio D

Ford recently opened the first Studio D in Los Angeles with a storefront at the Hollywood & Highland retail complex with free music downloads, T-shirt giveaways, fitness tips, health information and makeovers. The concept will travel to 10 cities, mostly in the center of shopping malls. In a number of markets, the effort will include a $25 gift certificate for mall merchandise when consumers take a test drive in a Fusion.

The Hollywood storefront, which will operate through March 8, coincides with the Los Angeles leg of the Race for the Cure and the Oscars. Ford will use the venue for celebrity gifting and outreach. Contestants from "America's Next Top Model" spent time there, with footage of the visit likely to end up on the UPN series.

Executives said more than 100 people a day have been coming through the venue.

Other marketing to women includes speed dating events -- seven minutes worth of chatting while riding in a Fusion -- and customized makeup called "Curve Hugger" eyeshadow from Benefit Cosmetics at Sephora stores this spring. The Fusion is part of the packaging, and an accompanying contest will give away one of the cars.

New York Fashion Week

The marketer also took part in the recent New York Fashion Week, sponsoring the Alice & Olivia show and giving a "Life in Drive" award to designer Stacy Bendet.

To speak to young men, Ford is considering a re-do of its summer concert series from last year, with details and exact timing yet to be decided. The marketer also plans to step up its guerrilla marketing and digital efforts, Ms. Perry-Lube said.
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