Six off-net partners bask in 'Idol' glow

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NEW YORK -- "American Idol" returns to Fox on Jan. 16 with Coca-Cola, Ford and Cingular Wireless as its three key integration partners again, but this season producers have allowed for increased viewer interaction through "Idol's" brand sponsors and also have lined up six off-air promotional partners to help turn "Idol" into a year-round property.

"Idol" producers Fremantle Media and 19 Entertainment announced Nestle and Dreyer's as the first of six new off-air promotional partners, all of who will be paying undisclosed fees for the right to launch marketing campaigns tied to "Idol." The other four official "Idol" partners will be announced during the next two to three months. Promotional partners will have the right to run their promotions year-round, and different campaigns will run at different times during the year, though the major focus will be during the show's January-May run on Fox.

"We're extending the interaction people can have during the show and off-air around the show," said Keith Hindle, executive vp Fremantle Licensing North America. "We're trying to extend the life of the brand so it becomes a year-round property."

Nestle will become the official candy of "American Idol" with more than 70 million candy bars featuring "Idol" branding and the chance to win a trip for two to Hollywood and tickets to both the 2007 "Idol" performance finale and results show.

Dreyer's will become "Idol's" official ice cream sponsor, with several new flavors created especially for the promotion, including Drumstick Diva, Rock 'n' Rolo and Hollywood Cheesecake.

"The brand has matured to a level where we can bring on national sponsors that are not integrated into the show itself but associate with the show in marketing and promotions during the year off-air," Hindle said.

While brands frequently participate in film promotions even when they are not featured in the movie, it is much more unusual to see advertisers spend marketing dollars on TV tie-ins when they are not featured in the show. In addition, brands usually don't have to pay additional fees for movie promotions since the studios are only too happy to benefit from their millions of dollars spent on co-branded TV spots, as well as print, radio, online, outdoor and in-store advertising.

"The issue for us isn't getting more eyeballs," Hindle said. "Earlier in the show's life cycle, it was about that. But now it's much more about fully monetizing the brand."

Hindle said the off-air promotions also offer brands a cheaper proposition to tie their equity to "Idol." Not only are "Idol's" combined brand integration and media deals the most expensive of any TV show outside of the Olympics, according to Hindle, but there is little room for other integration partners in a show that already hands major roles to Coca-Cola and Ford -- sponsors since the first season -- and Cingular, which joined "Idol" as AT&T in the second season.

Mark Brittain, who is responsible for merchandising and brand tie-ins for "Idol" on behalf of 19 Entertainment, said the fact that Fox recently renewed "Idol" through 2010 made the off-air promotions particularly attractive to advertisers this season.

"We now have a record six off-air partners," Brittain said. "It really does show the power of 'American Idol.' We now have brands queuing up to work with us."

For their part, Coca-Cola, Ford and Cingular will be integrated into "Idol" in similar ways to previous years, but this season they are trying to build upon viewers' interest in interacting with the show. Through its MyCokeRewards.com incentive program launched last April, consumers can submit questions that host Ryan Seacrest will ask the 12 top contestants live on-air. Each week the Idols will be asked questions chosen through a random drawing among those submitted at www.mycokerewards.com. There also will be "American Idol"-themed prizes offered through the MyCokeRewards Web site, said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Susan McDermott.

"Idol" fans also will be offered the chance to submit their own designs for the judges' Coca-Cola cups on AmericanIdol.com. The winning cup will be featured on an episode of the show. Coca-Cola's customized in-store "Idol" promotions for its retail clients also are expected to more than double this year to about 50 nationwide.

The American Idol Web site again will feature exclusive behind-the-scenes video and photos of the contestants, presented by Coca-Cola, and contestants will again hang out in the Coca-Cola-sponsored Red Room.

For the first time, Cingular will be making video clips of "Idol" performances available to its customers shortly after the show. Cingular will again enable its customers to use their wireless phones to text message their votes, participate in hosted chats with voted-off top 12 finalists, test their knowledge of "Idol" trivia and personalize their wireless phones with Live Idol Tones of the top 12 finalists' performances. Cingular will feature video clips of selected bad auditions as well as performances of the top 12 finalists via Cingular Video.

Ford will be casting viewers who win "Idol"-themed competitions in their Ford music videos, which feature the 12 finalists and air during the show. Typically, one winner will be featured in each video, Hindle said. Ford, which took its "Idol" videos online for the first time last year, said it will be looking for such "new and fresh ways" to distribute content this season as gaming and cell phones. Ford, which will primarily feature its new Ford Edge in the videos, said it also expects its logos to be visible at the "Idol" auditions for the first time this season.

The automaker will again give away new Ford Mustangs to the "Idol" winner and runner-up.
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