Motor Co. teaming with 'Amazing Race' producers on net show

Ford Motor Co. is pairing up with “The Amazing Race” producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri to launch their own reality competition show “Focus Rally: America” that will bow as a Web series early next year.

Hulu will be one of the primary homes for the online show that will revolve around six teams of two competitors as they race across the country completing a series of challenges. Casting is under way for the five-week production that starts lensing in February.

Naturally, given the main producer, “Focus Rally” is designed to be a major branded entertainment vehicle to show off Ford’s new Focus that rolls into dealerships early next year. Series will serve as Ford’s pre-launch marketing effort leading up to the car’s launch.

The small car is Ford’s attempt to win over car buyers who normally consider a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. In fact, that segment of the auto market is becoming more competitive and companies are turning to entertainment more than ever to let consumers know the cars exist and drive them into showrooms.

General Motors, for example, has essentially taken over CBS to tout its new small Cruze sedan.

With “Focus Rally,” Ford will put a spotlight on the company’s new SYNC and MyFord Touch entertainment and navigation systems, as well as rearview camera and other tech offerings used by teams as they complete challenges.

“The technology available with the Focus will be demonstrated throughout the course of the rally,” said Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. Marketing.

Ford also relied on various Web series to promote its new Fiesta, and has turned recently to TV shows like “American Idol,” “24,” “Fringe” and “Desperate Housewives” to plug its products.

“For us, this is a natural progression from integrating product into existing programs to creating our own,” VanDyke said.

One Web series, “If I Can Dream,” is getting prominent play on Hulu, and giving “Focus Rally” a high-profile showcase on the site is yet another example of how Hulu is embracing brands as it figures out ways to make money off of programs that play on the site.

“Focus Rally” will be offered alongside the premium lineup of TV shows and movies that Hulu charges audiences to watch.

But the show won’t be exclusive to Hulu; Ford will also distrib the show to other dotcoms.

Given that it’s a Web skein, the series will utilize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as FocusRally.com to give viewers a more behind-the-scenes look in real-time of the race underway, and auds the chance to help the competitors with answers to clues, for example.

The winning team will receive a $100,000 grand prize, while 10 new Focuses will go to fans and supporters of the winners.

“There are two key elements to this series: first, the interactive element, which is designed to engage viewers throughout the rally and encourage them to participate in the challenges; and second, the real-time twist where consumers have the ability to follow their favorite team in the digital space,” Doganieri said.

Not only is the Ford project the first Web series for Van Munster and Doganieri, it’s also their first branded entertainment effort, although brands like Travelocity, 7-Up and Mercedes-Benz have been integrated into “Amazing Race.”

The two had been eyeing the web as another “platform for what we want to make,” Doganieri said. “We’re not stuck in a format of 44 minutes.”

And although “Focus Rally” is essentially a glorified car commercial, “The show is ultimately about the people in the car and their adventure,” she said.

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