Because it owned the house, it was predictable that Ford's new reality-TV show on NBC, Escape Routes, would find every angle to tout the automaker's new 2013 Ford Escape — the namesake inspiration for the show. And it did.
But what viewers of the first installment of the show might not have expected was to see a number of other blue-chip brands — including McDonald's, J.C. Penney, several Procter & Gamble marques, even Ford rival Volkswagen — go along for the ride.
The six-week Escape Routes series, which debuted on March 31st, is the latest way for Ford to push the envelope with new-era marketing formats, where it has demonstrated industry leadership.
And while the first installment was hardly Emmy-worthy appointment viewing, Ford executives tell brandchannel they're pleased with the social TV meets branded entertainment experiment.
"We are pumped," Crystal Worthem, Ford's brand content and alliances manager, told brandchannel. "Just on Twitter alone, there were 16 million impressions. If you look at this compared with what we did last year for Focus Rally, which was an online-only [reality] series, we've blown those numbers away already with just one episode" of Escape Routes. Part of that buzz is due to participant iJustine, who boasts 1.4 million followers just on Twitter.
On the reality TV competition that is built on the devotion of social-media fans of the two-person teams involved (stunts includ a real-life re-creation of Zynga's Hanging with Friends game), Ford's new SUV and its features were extolled at nearly every turn in the first episode.
Its Saturday-evening at 8 p.m. EDT slot isn't exactly easy to love for advertisers, with Saturday nights typically being the lowest of the week for TV viewing. Making things tougher still, Escape Routes' debut was up against the mammoth draw on CBS of the semifinals of March Madness. So quite predictably, Escape Routes drew a paltry 1 share of its targeted 18-to-49-year-old demographic, in fourth and last place among the broadcast networks — by far — during that hour.
Yet the show still drew the participation of McDonald's, Dish Network's Hopper DVR system, JCPenney and Kraft during its first advertising block, as well as Ford and promos for other NBC shows. Later during the broadcast, Woolite, Magnum, Swiffer, Tide, Yoplait, Lowe's, Bing and General Electric were among the advertisers and brands. VW even bought a spot for its Passat sedan.
"It was pleasing to see Tier One advertisers on the show," Worthem said. "They know the merits of the show. They've bought into the fact that it's not a Ford infomercial but a legitimate show from a credible production company. You saw the same kinds of advertisers you'd see in any other primetime evening show."