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Pontiac Sole Presenter of A&E’s ‘Criss Angel’

Jul 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Pontiac has made a deal with A&E to be the sole presenting sponsor of its new series “Criss Angel Mindfreak.”

The extensive arrangement marks the first time A&E will feature a single presenting sponsor for an entire series. However, Pontiac will not be the only advertiser in the show.

“Mindfreak” is a look backstage as illusionist Criss Angel prepares and executes his stunts. The series was already in production when Pontiac came on board, so A&E and Mr. Angel agreed to shoot another episode. The added episode features Pontiac’s new Torrent SUV in a stunt. Pontiac will be the only advertiser for that episode, which will have limited commercial interruptions.

The sponsorship deal, which industry sources value at $3 million, also calls for the Torrent to be featured in vignettes starring and produced by Mr. Angel and in regular spots, banners, Web site links, co-branded tune-in advertising, and ads when the show is viewed on video-on-demand.

Pontiac is known as an advertiser looking to do product integration deals, a reputation cemented when the company gave away 276 of its G6 autos on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“We’re getting more aggressive with just trying to find ways to take what starts as traditional media buys and making them go further and deeper,” said Mary Kubitskey, advertising manager for Pontiac. “‘Criss Angel’ just stood out as something that felt very Pontiac and felt very different, so that’s what started the conversation.”

Melinda McLaughlin, senior VP of integrated sales and marketing for A&E Television Networks, said a member of her integrated sales team had joined one of the network’s other salespeople on that visit to Pontiac in Detroit. “The client saw the connection,” she said, between Mr. Angel and the contemporary, cool image Pontiac is trying to present. The slogan for the new Torrent is “Designed to move you like never before,” and Mr. Angel “creates moving experiences that you never expected,” Ms. McLaughlin said.

“The Criss Angel brand felt very consistent with the Pontiac brand. It’s a little different, pushing the edge a little bit, a little bit dark, something alternative,” Ms. Kubitskey said.

Ms. McLaughlin said Ms. Kubitskey challenged A&E to come back with an idea big enough, and the network came up with a plan that incorporated as many elements as possible. After meeting with the client again, “almost every single element is part of the pact,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “Normally, about half of it falls out.”

In this case, however, Pontiac continued to bring ideas for the sponsorship and is willing to pay to execute them. Often, according to Ms. McLaughlin, clients will say “We love this idea, but we expect you to pay for it,” With Pontiac “it was a shared partnership.”

By the time Pontiac agreed to be a sponsor, much of the show was already shot. “In a perfect world, we would have known about this before he started producing his shows, so we could have gotten even more integrations,” Ms. Kubitskey said.

The show is scheduled to premiere July 20, before the Torrent is launched. The special Pontiac episode will air in September in conjunction with the car launch.

To smooth the integration, Ms. McLaughlin set up a meeting in New York with various A&E departments, Pontiac executives, agency executives and Mr. Angel.

“[Mr. Angel] is an incredible businessman,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “He’s a real creative person, but he really gets the business. He’s been terrific at articulating when in his gut he believes we’ve crossed the line, but then [he helps] with creative solutions.”

Mr. Angel, who has been a spokesman for Miller Lite in the past, said sponsorship deals “provide the dollars to keep the show successful and moving forward” but added he would not have done it for the money alone.

He was in the market for an SUV when the deal with Pontiac was being made. The Torrent “really suits my lifestyle and what I’m doing quite comfortably,” he said. Pontiac is providing Mr. Angel with Torrents to transport himself, his crew and his equipment in Las Vegas and New York. “It’s not just a prop,” he said.

Mr. Angel has also come up with ideas for special stunts that will incorporate the Torrent and be used in the vignettes that will air on A&E. One vignette Mr. Angel is planning shows him and a Torrent on opposite sides of the puddle. They charge at one another and Mr. Angel dives into the puddle before the Torrent splashes through. The 30-second vignettes will urge viewers to tune in to the series and explain that Pontiac is the presenting sponsor of “Criss Angel.”

A&E and Pontiac will work to promote the “Oasis” episode with a watch-and-win contest. A&E’s Web site will also offer viewers “remember to watch” messages via e-mail and wireless phones.

The Web site plans to offer viewers a chance to be “mind freaked” via text messaging. The site will ask users to think of a number, and they’ll get a message containing the number.

Pontiac will be mentioned in several of A&E’s other marketing efforts for the show, and “Mindfreak” material will be available at some Pontiac dealers.

Ms. Kubitskey said there are still more things Pontiac can do with Mr. Angel around the time of the Torrent launch.

“It’s sort of becoming Pontiac’s mantra now to find an interesting media property and see if you can blow it out and go deeper in all channels,” she said.