Ford and Chevrolet are going head-to-head sponsoring po... Ford and Chevrolet are going head-to-head sponsoring popular shows (Ford, GM)
Ford and Chevy have been intense rivals for decades. Ford F-Series pickup versus Chevy Silverado. Mustang versus Camaro. In past years, executive bonuses were tied to one beating the other for sales. Now, the rivalry is extending to the world of American Idol and former Idol judge Simon Cowell's new talent show debuting in the fall, The X Factor.

Ford has made great strides in communicating its "Drive One" message to young consumers by being a key sponsor of Fox's American Idol for the last decade. Now Chevrolet, Ford's chief rival, is hoping to do the same by being a key sponsor of The X Factor.

Chevy, General Motors' biggest brand, will be the exclusive on-air, off-air and online sponsor of the show, which follows an Idol-like competition format with judges and viewer voting to help decide which breakout musical artist or act will receive a $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony Music.

This move seems in keeping with Chevy's current marketing strategy. The Detroit car maker advertised and integrated product into Fox's hit show Glee in addition to running spots during the Super Bowl. Besides going after the broad demographic of Idol, Chevy is hoping for similarly big audiences as American Idol. Ratings for the most recent Idol season showed about 25 million viewers an episode.

It remains to be seen if Simon Cowell, who left Idol after the 2010 season, has the juice to carry his own show and rival his former partners for eyeballs. "Fox is thrilled to partner with Chevrolet, an iconic American brand that celebrates the everyday hero, in launching the most anticipated series of the fall, The X Factor," said Jean Rossi, president of Fox One and executive vice president of sales for Fox Broadcasting Co.

Since Fox is airing both shows, they, of course, won't be going up against one another in the same time-slot. But there is a thought that Fox might be splitting the audience for talent shows, as well as hedging its bets by developing a new show if Idol starts to tail off.

One thing is for sure. Ratings of Idol weren't hurt by Cowell's departure. Not only did the show improve this year by almost one million viewers per night, but new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler proved to be extremely popular with viewers despite the fact that neither delivers a version of Cowell's well-known snark and icy glares.

For Ford's part, the Dearborn, MI automaker has relied on strategic ad integration, such as including this year's Idol finalists Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina into its "Making of Fireflies" video and giving the competition's winner an all-new and just redesigned 2011 Ford Focus. Ford regularly develops ads and debuts new ads on the show with the Idol audience in mind, and the contestants make Ford videos with Ford vehicles that run in the show throughout the season.

The Chevy deal follows a ten-year Ford run of advertising on Idol, with the company reporting demonstrable effectiveness: more than 1 million consumers have opted in for more information about Ford vehicles as a direct result of Ford's involvement with "Idol." As part of this partnership, Ford has the final two contestants donate a Ford Focus to their favorite teacher during the finale and donates $30,000 through "Drive One 4 UR" school program.

"American Idol's high ratings make it a mini-Super Bowl every week," said Crystal Worthem, Ford Brand Content and Alliances manager. "The show attracts a huge audience that is able to connect with our vehicles in a fresh and meaningful way."

The X Factor will feature "a lot of telephoning of judges and discussions of the groups they represent" as they travel to coach various contestants, Keith Hindle, CEO Americas, FremantleMedia Enterprises, told Advertising Age. "That gives us the ability to amp that up a bit and feature in-car technology...That was one of the key hooks," Hindle, whose company is one of the program's producers, told the magazine.

Chevrolet will also be the exclusive automotive sponsor of off-air and digital promotions related to X Factor.

Chevy vehicles will be featured in episodes according to how each one might fit in that week's episode, meaning that every vehicle from its new Sonic sub-compact to its large Suburban SUV, will appear in the show.

Chevy is hoping that it is catching the new show at just the right time, perhaps when Idol has crested in popularity and may be ready to give way to Cowell's new show. Chevy's Glee sponsorship has been effective, but not as strong in pop culture measurement, perhaps, as Ford's American Idol tie-in.

"We want to be more a part of culturally relevant events, here in the U.S. as well a globally," says Kevin Mayer, director of advertising and sales promotion for Chevrolet. "We see this as one of the next big things on television."

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