Idol Moments Ahead for Advertisers

Fox's third rendition is an orgy of integrated marketing


American Success

The three biggest sponsors of hit Fox series American Idol—Coca-Cola, Ford and AT&T Wireless—will be back for the newest installment, each reportedly making a $20 million-plus gamble that the show will continue to generate huge ratings and water-cooler buzz.

Fox wouldn't comment on the dollar figures.

Key sponsors will use the upcoming third installment, which debuts Jan. 19, to launch new advertising spots as well as integrated marketing staples, such as product placements and promotional tie-ins.

Fox has also signed key sponsorships with several advertisers that get product placements for one episode as well as tie ins: newcomer Subway, Old Navy, and P&G's Clairol brands.

As is true of many reality series, the key to American Idol 3's success, say media executives, will be the show's ability to showcase charismatic talents that generate huge rooting interests with audiences.

"They've got to capture the imagination and interest of the American public like Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard did last time," said one executive close to the show. "If they get that, there's no reason why they shouldn't do as well as or better than last year."

Earlier this year, Idol2 powered Fox to both a February and May sweeps win among adults 18-49—the first time the network has won back-to-back sweeps in that key demo. The live final episode drew almost 40 million viewers, about 33% more than the finale of the first American Idol
drew in summer 2002.

isn't the only reality show that thrives on the personalities of their contestants. Shows like Survivor
and The Bachelor
also need heroes and villains to ratchet up fan interest. On the recently concluded Survivor, two contestants in particular stood out: Rupert, who had a bigger-than-life personality and the look of a pirate right out of Central Casting, and John, who told the biggest lie in the history of reality TV.

"A lot of these shows depend on the public getting rooting interest either for or against certain of the players," said an executive at a Fox competitor. "Their ability to do that will determine how strong American Idol
is" in the upcoming edition.

Meanwhile, Coke will be launching two ad spots for its Classic brand and also putting significantly more advertising and promotional weight behind its Vanilla Coke brand during the program, according to a company spokeswoman.

The Coke "Red Room," where contestants hang out before and after performances, is getting a makeover that will incorporate new graphics that Coke will begin displaying nationwide on such venues as billboards and vending machines.

In addition, the familiar Coke cups will remain in place at the judges' table, with the acerbic Simon Cowell getting a new Vanilla Coke cup. In recent months, Cowell has starred in several new ads featuring Vanilla Coke.

Coke will also do a consumer contest that will send the winners on a trip to Los Angeles to attend the show.

Ford is still finalizing plans to showcase several models—the Focus, Escape, Mustang and Ranger brands—targeted to younger drivers. Last year, Idol
segments featured judges' arriving at certain destinations in Ford Thunderbirds while contestants arrived in Expeditions. Winner Studdard won an Expedition, and his mom won a Thunderbird. Viewers also had a chance to a win a Ford in Idol2; a similar contest is planned for Idol3, a spokesman said.

As in the Idol 2
edition, Ford plans a series of music videos featuring various contestants singing songs linked to driving. Last year's songs included Mustang Sally
and Fun Fun Fun (Til Your Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away).

New sponsor Subway plans a product-placement segment that will feature contestants either going to a Subway shop to make their lunch or ordering Subway sandwiches to be delivered to an audition site.

Subway employee Jared Fogle (who lost 230 pounds on a Subway diet) was on hand at the New York City auditions earlier in the year. A camera crew followed him as he chatted up fans and contestants alike, but a Subway spokesman said it was unclear whether any of that material would make it to the final cut of the show. It's likely Jared will appear in on-air commercials during the program, although, at deadline, a company spokesman said he couldn't confirm that was the case.

Clairol will promote its line of hair-color and hair-care (shampoos and conditioners) products during the program and will do a product-placement segment where finalists get a hairstyle makeover (or at least a touch-up). Like, Coke, Clairol plans a contest that will send winners to the Idol