Ford, Verizon on the 'Lot'

Join Spielberg show for placements

NEW YORK -- Steven Spielberg is no stranger to product integration in his films, from the renowned Reeses Pieces in "E.T." to the Gap, Lexus and Reebok in "Minority Report" to a long list of retailers and restaurants that had their businesses depicted in "The Terminal" including Burger King, Starbucks and Borders.

Now, through his partnership with Mark Burnett, whom many consider the pioneer of brand integration with the huge success of "Survivor," and Fox -- the network that airs "American Idol," one of the most successful TV platforms ever for advertisers -- for their new filmmaking competition series "On the Lot," integration partners Verizon and Ford have a rare opportunity to be prominently featured not only in a TV show but in the films produced by the contestants aspiring to win a $1 million DreamWorks development deal. The show premieres Tuesday night following "American Idol."

"We think this is a unique opportunity for both of our key sponsors because we have the reality portion of the show -- the behind-the-scenes moments where the contestants can be seen using products -- but we go one step beyond that because we have scripted films each week where the brands can be integrated in a more organic and creative way," said Darryl Frank, co-president of DreamWorks Television and co-executive producer of the show.

"We're trying to find the next great Hollywood director, and this is not dissimilar to what professional directors have to do on big-budget films," Frank said. "If you're a working director in Hollywood there are situations where you need to integrate products seamlessly, creatively and organically into films. We think it's terrific that our contestants have the same opportunity and challenge to find ways to successfully work with brands."

Added David Goffin, showrunner and an executive producer of the show on behalf of Mark Burnett Prods., "It's the real world, and that's what is hopefully going to make this show successful. Whether it's product integration or making a film, it's just what the contestants are going to have to do to make it in the real world."

Fox, DreamWorks Television and Mark Burnett Prods. jointly negotiated the integration and sponsorship deals with Verizon and Ford, who were the top bidders in the wireless and automotive categories. The deals cover commercial time as well as on-air integration, online content and off-air licensing rights. Fox, DreamWorks, Mark Burnett Prods., Verizon and Ford all declined comment on the amount the brands paid for their sponsorship/integration deals.

As part of its deal with "Lot," Verizon will not only see its phones used by contestants in the show and by actors in the films they make, but will also be the text messaging partner enabling viewers to vote for their favorite filmmakers every week, much like AT&T is the text messaging partner for "American Idol." In addition, exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from the "Lot," including outtakes, contestant bios and more than 40 original short films to be featured on the show, will be available on Verizon's V Cast video service both before and after the voting.

Verizon is also sponsoring an online moviemaking challenge tied to the show. Beginning May 28, consumers can submit their own short films via their cell phones or the Internet that are in the same genre as the films featured on "Lot." That gives them the chance to win weekly prizes, including V Cast mobile TV phones (where "Lot" will be one of the TV shows available for viewing).

Consumers will vote for the grand prize winner, whose short film will be featured on V Cast Video. The winner will also be announced on the show and win a trip to the "Lot" finale. Verizon's on-air and online ads will promote the show, the V Cast video content and the Verizon moviemaking challenge at Verizon is hoping contestants will utilize the various features of its wireless phones on-air such as V Cast video, Internet capability, navigation applications and mobile TV.

" 'On the Lot' is one of the shows we felt really tied back to what we're trying to create, which is entertainment," said Suzy Deering, executive director of brand, media and sponsorships for Verizon. "When the opportunity came to us, it had great value in the sense that we have a product that's about TV and entertainment and they have a product about creating entertainment, so the two together work really well. It's a perfect fit for us in that it's all about moviemaking and films from a short perspective."

For its role, Ford will see a number of its vehicles used to shuttle contestants and guests on the show around the studio lot and to film locations. In the short films themselves, which will range from one to four minutes, the producers of the show will utilize Ford vehicles rather than other car brands in background shots whenever possible. And a certain number of films throughout the show will integrate Ford cars more prominently, giving them more of a starring role.

Ford Escape marketing manager Usha Raghavachari said the automaker's ad agency, JWT, will also be producing original content featuring "Lot" and the Ford Escape that will appear on both and, a dedicated site that is the focal point of Ford's launch campaign for the 2008 Escape. She said themes from the show, hosts or contestants could be integrated into the original Ford content. "You will see elements of the Escape campaign on and you will see our relationship with 'On the Lot' on our Web site."

Raghavachari said Ford, which is one of "American Idol's" three main sponsors, is taking integration "a step beyond 'Idol' by tying very directly into the theme" of "Lot." "Not only are we integrating the new Ford Escape, but the idea behind the launch campaign of the new Escape. The very center of our 'boredom hurts' campaign is digital content and reaching out to consumers for user-generated content. The idea behind 'On the Lot' is to encourage people to create their own content. It's a great fit from a marketing perspective, and it's a more innovative approach than we've perhaps used before."

Despite the significant on-air roles for Verizon and Ford, the show's producers said they were not concerned the integrations would be overdone or turn viewers away. "We're very sensitive as are the brands about being too in-your-face about it," Frank said. Added Goffin, "The brands want to be integrated in a seamless way as well. It's really a two-way street to try to do this the right way."

Spielberg and Burnett are creators and executive producers of "Lot." Justin Falvey, also co-president of DreamWorks Television and Conrad Riggs of Mark Burnett Prods., are also co-executive producers.