TV’s ‘Escape Routes’ rides into new territory to launch vehicle
BY JACLYN TROP
Ford Motor Co. will break ground in advertising next week when it becomes the first automaker to launch a vehicle through prime time television.
“Escape Routes,” an hourlong NBC reality series produced by Ford and featuring the 2013 Ford Escape, will debut March 31. If successful, the approach could invite a new marketing model that integrates social media with TV to enlist audience participation and build buzz for a product.
The six-week show will follow six teams traveling cross-country in the small SUVs, which go on sale in June. En route, teams will compete in challenges similar to swinging on a trapeze or walking on an airplane wing for a grand prize of $100,000 and two new Ford Escapes. Viewers can vote for their favorite teams and compete online for trips, electronics and a new Escape.
“I don’t know if the show will cross a new barrier between advertising and entertainment,” said Tom Talbert, group director of media services at the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency in Warren.”But it may harness online, mobile and social networking tools in a powerful new way.”
The show’s premise goes beyond traditional product placement, a marketing strategy that integrates an advertiser’s product and logo into a TV show or movie — such as a tricked-out Camaro in “Transformers” or Reese’s Pieces in “ET” — because “Escape Routes” makes the vehicle a central character.
Product placement has become increasingly popular in recent years because it combats viewers’ inclination to fast-forward through commercials.
Producing a reality show is more expensive than creating a traditional print or broadcast advertising campaign — some analysts said it could cost as much as 75 percent more. But Ford said the expense is justified because the program will reach a broad audience.
Neither it nor NBC would say how much the Dearborn-based company spent on the series. “Escape Routes” will feature commercials for other products, but Ford will be the exclusive auto advertiser.
Ford hopes that by putting the Escape in front of consumers before it arrives in showrooms, it will stand out from other small SUVs such as the Jeep Liberty, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
Ford is no stranger to the power of prime time television: “Escape Routes” complements Ford’s television sponsorships of two reality show hits, Fox’s “American Idol” and CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” said Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski.
“Escape Routes” builds on Ford’s successful prelaunch social media campaigns for the new Fiesta and Focus models over the past few years, Kozleski said.
Ford’s 2009 “Fiesta Movement” campaign showed 100 bloggers who shared their Fiesta driving experiences through social media and competed in monthly missions that educated audiences about the car.
Last year’s “Focus Rally: America” campaign for the 2012 Ford Focus featured six teams competing in a cross-country road rally similar to the one planned for “Escape Routes.” That competition aired on Web video-streaming service Hulu and attracted network attention and interest in a follow-up vehicle launch competition.
“We got started generating so much content that actually we decided — the team decided — why don’t we go to a mainstream TV network and see if they want to use this?” Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice president forglobal marketing, sales and services, told The Detroit News.
“We thought it would be just for the website, and now NBC just picked it up as a freakin’ prime time show, and I mean now we’re a car company producing this TV show.”
NBC executives initially wondered whether the show would appear as more infomercial than entertainment, but the producers attached to the project gave the program clout, said Crystal Worthem, Ford’s manager of brand content and alliances. Producers are Elise Doganieri, an eight-time Emmy Award-winner who co-created and co-produced “The Amazing Race,” and Profiles Television Productions team member David Leener.
The program has potential for success, but it’s too soon to predict its impact on Ford’s sales or the advertising industry, said University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor Mike Bernacchi.
“Will the world’s eyeballs be on this?” Bernacchi said. “Probably not.”
“But if this creates buzz, if it creates the kind of outcome they would like — if (the Escape) all of a sudden become a hot mobile, then yes, it will be a success.”
Unlike other reality shows, “Escape Routes” will have a short lead time, with each episode airing only about a week after filming. A live segment will announce the weekly winner, Kozleski said.
‘Anything is possible’
The road trip starts in Los Angeles and visits New York, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Viewers can follow the journey at escaperoutes.com.
The show’s success could engender a new genre of product-focused reality shows, said Birmingham-based brand consultant Mark Lantz.
“Drop somebody in the middle of a strange environment with only their Android smartphone to help them survive,” Lantz said.”Have teams of people compete at building houses with their Craftsman tools. Pretty much anything is possible.”