March 21st, 2009

Infiniti Revs Placements

By T.L. Stanley
BrandWeek

At a time when General Motors’ Saturn is running an ad stating forlornly, “We’re still here,” rival Infiniti is revving up its branded entertainment placements.

The automaker has embedded its models and “inspirational” tagline into the current NCAA tournament, Elvis Costello’s music-centric series on Sundance Channel and Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio.

Infiniti executives are also mulling a continuation of a two-year deal with Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, where the brand recently sponsored an online interactive-voting application that lets viewers pick their favorite moments from the show.

Though parent company Nissan North America is hurting, along with the rest o the industry—car sales in units fell 27.7 percent for the first two months of this year versus the same period in 2008 per AutoData, Woodcliff Lake, N.J.—Infiniti isn’t dialing back on marketing.

“We have to be in market, talking to shoppers,” said Kathy Roznowski, senior manager, Infiniti media, at parent company Nissan North America. Though its primary focus is on nuts-and-bolts marketing, Infiniti also is emphasizing branded entertainment, which “gets us into venues where we can show the value of our brand and speak to a demographic that has an affinity for us,” Roznowski said.

Prominent among Infiniti’s deals is the first-time exclusive sponsorship of the Big Ten and SEC basketball conferences and related, multilayered ad deals with CBS and ESPN. Branded vignettes include the “Infiniti Pre-Game Showcase,” airing weekly on ESPN, with “Infiniti’s Defining Moments”calling out key scoring and plays. A segment called “My Defining Moments,” in which former standout players talk about their careers since college, airs around game play on CBS.

For the Sundance Channel music/talk series, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With..., the marketer produced two-minute original vignettes that made some unlikely pairings of musical artists and producers—like Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Audioslave with mainstream pop hitmaker Timbaland.

Dubbed “The Inspiration Sessions,” the segments are airing on the channel and its Web site now. Each of the 13 episodes also contains Infiniti-branded factoids and behind-the-scenes footage of Costello and his guests talking about music that inspired them.

The marketer’s sponsorship of Inside the Actors Studio includes the “Infiniti Film Vault,” with highlights from the guest actor’s body of work, and an “Infiniti Fan Question” as part of the on-air and online content each week.

Across the board, Infiniti’s branded content appears in addition to billboards, tagged tune-in messages, bumpers and other well-used kinds of branding. The deals fan out to online programs, print components and other media, showing the importance of making the most of the relationship.

“We never want to do the ‘insert car here’ kind of integrations; we want it to be unique to Infiniti,” said Jeannine Ramer, group director of strategy at OMD, Infiniti’s agency. “And we take advantage of the tie-ins across multiple platforms.”

To measure the ROI on such deals, Infiniti is working with iTVX, which has developed increasingly sophisticated tools to score the deals’ media valuation and marketing impact. It’s not solely a matter of screen time or whether a star rubbed elbows with the product or mentioned it by name. “Clients will only buy what can get measured,” said Frank Zazza, CEO of iTVX. “Quantifying the value of brand integrations is foremost on marketers’ minds right now.”

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