In Depth

Ford Creates Prime-Time NBC Reality Series to Launch New Escape -- NBC Keeps All the Revenue From Other Advertisers

By Stephen Williams
Advertising Age

Ford Motor Co. has created six episodes of an hour-long reality show called "Escape Routes" that will run on NBC beginning later this month to promote Ford's redesigned Escape.

Rather than buying the time from NBC, Ford handed over the show and ceded all ad revenue to the network, stipulating only that Ford will be the exclusive automotive advertiser, said Crystal Worthem, brand content and alliances manager for Ford .

It appears to be the first time an automaker has used prime-time TV to introduce a car this way. But marketers have increasingly been creating their own content, even in expensive areas like prime time. Procter & Gamble teamed up with Walmart Stores to produce a made-for-TV movie, "Secrets of the Mountain," in 2010 for NBC, and Golf Magazine turned to TV to help generate some new business by purchasing two hours of airtime on CBS to broadcast a golf competition.

"Escape Routes" tracks six two-person teams who take part "in a coast-to-coast series of spontaneous adventures and interactive challenges using their Escapes," according to Ford.

"When we looked at the redesigned Escape, we thought, how do we get a mass number of eyeballs on this?" said Ms. Worthem. "Let's take some learning and really put a lot more effort into a broadcast."

"It's a big risk," she said. "It's taking something we've done well online, but still keeping the social aspects alive."

The show was made with the help of Ford 's Detroit creative agency, Team Detroit, and by a production team from Profiles Television. Beyond the Escape itself, Ford commercials during the show will promote other vehicles in the company's portfolio and some sales events.

The first episode is scheduled to air on Saturday, March 31, at 8 p.m on NBC and at 11 p.m on mun2, the bicultural cable network. Each episode will also run on NBC.com and mun2.tv the day after the broadcast. Saturday night is typically a weak spot in the schedule, with networks often airing repeats.

"We thought it would be ideal to have this," said NBC spokeswoman Liz Fischer. "Ford has some well known and experienced people, a great cast, a unique social media component."

Last year Ford used Zynga to reveal the new Escape via social gaming.