Analyst critically evaluates Ford’s sponsorship of ’24’ premiere

Last season, we were introduced to Federal Agent Jack Bauer of the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU). Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) had 24 hours (in real-time) to thwart a terrorist plot to assassinate a presidential candidate and rescue his wife and daughter. Bauer put it best when he said, today is the longest day of my life.

Prophetic words when millions of consumers tuned in a year later to be subjected to two bookend three-minute segments from Ford (now I know what it feels like to be a Ham sandwich).

Taking my cynical hat off for a second, let me step back and look at this new approach from both sides of the fence. To be sure, it is another manifestation of the very important Madison and Vine trend that is Swiffering its way through content as we used to know it on both the big and small screens.

On the visibility checklist, Ford scored through the much-publicized Fox promotions for the Season Premiere. Then of course there were the six minutes or equivalent of 12 x 30-second spots. And who could forget Kiefer Sutherland thanking Ford for making it all possible (and on another level for helping to reignite his career)? Ironically, the multiple product placements in the show were the most conventional in this one-off deal.

The three-minute segments were customized especially for this placement. A special set of creatives, customized for a unique situation, audience or mindset is always going to resonate stronger with an audience (in case you’re wondering – yes, this is called contextual relevancy). However, I still wonder whether this was an innovation in broadcast advertising, or in fact, just a stopgap solution to help numb the pain and prolong the inevitable.

Trust me. I’m trying to keep an open mind about this; however I keep coming back to a fundamental belief: given the choice, most consumers would reject advertising hands down. The only way I could see a consumer sitting through a three-minute Ford commercial is through the element of surprise (read: being tricked). If so, this is one of those Borg-type solutions: It works for a short period of time, but then you quickly adapt to it.

Many broadcast executives felt that this solution would thwart the TiVo threat. According to one executive, this is because TiVo can’t skip commercials longer than 30 seconds. First of all, TiVo doesn’t skip commercials. Second of all, the consumer entertainment tabloids and magazines telegraphed exactly how this would work in advance of the airing of the show. And finally, based on the previous example and TiVo viewing habits, most TiVo users probably tuned in 10 minutes late anyway, which would have given them ample time to skip the Ford rant.

So why all the fuss about this? Even the trades didn’t give it too much real estate. You’ve all heard the phrase, if it ain’t broke…, which is usually uttered in the same paragraph as, no one ever got fired for putting TV on the plan. In this case, I believe something is broke. And if it doesn’t get fixed pretty soon, broke is going to take on another meaning…

As much as I try and rationalize this tactic, or look for its redeeming benefits, all I think about is the band playing on the deck of the Titanic, or how about the analogy of prolonging the agony once you’ve created one of those air-pockets in a game of Tetris (you know what I’m talking about).

You might think I’m overreacting somewhat. I thought I was too, until I saw an article documenting the recent American Magazine Conference, where one of the core take-aways was that their business model is broken and needs to be addressed immediately. Now while I’m sure many of us would agree that the Magazine model is in much more need of an overhaul than television, could this be a sign of things to come?

But perhaps my primary concern with this “24” case is that it is indicative of a model that for the most part, has continued to deliver despite the occasional hiccup. It is still the staple ingredient in most media plans that can afford it. All the other media touchpoints depend on it (the medium we love to hate), so much so that without it, the instant recognition afforded by its halo effect would vanish without a trace.

And yet, this model is being tampered with by – quite frankly – people who don’t know what they’re doing. For all you displaced, disgruntled or disillusioned new media folk out there, you now have a calling: Go (back) into traditional and give ‘em some much needed help, before they end up mauling the hand that once fed them so contently (pun intended).

Sipping a latte from a coffeehouse on the corner of Madison and Vine, I can’t help but force out a smile from my patronizing head, which is shaking from side to side. Someone tried a bit too hard on this particular project to bridge the gap between the present and the future. Consumers have come to accept pods of disruptive commercials in their broadcasting diet, and while this is slowly changing, there’s still plenty of time to milk this particular cash cow.

In new media, we’re faced with the challenge of migrating to a point in which consumers buy into advertising-supported or endorsed content. How ironic it is to see the exact opposite happening in offline.

And while we’re at it, let’s touch on another lesson learned from the bowels of new media. Efficacy.

I wonder how Ford will be judging success on this campaign. 12 x $184,550 = $2,214,600 (using 24’s 30-second rate card, without allowing for discount). How indeed will the company determine whether this sizeable investment actually worked?

Will it be the number of new Fords driven out of their dealerships? Surely not.

How about hits to the Ford Website immediately following the first three-minute segment? Even with all those dual PC-TV households wired to hilt, I’m pretty sure most people were just leaning back to watch the show.

Nobody said this was going to be an easy day. Just ask Jack Bauer.

Source iMediaConnection