One might think that when the music stops tonight during ABC’s broadcast of the 50th annual “CMA Awards,” the time will come for ads to begin. During this year’s broadcast, that won’t necessarily be the case.
Music will certainly echo when the Walt Disney network runs a 90-second long commercial on behalf of General Motors’ Chevrolet between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. eastern that will look much like an ersatz concert popping up around a popular Nashville landmark. Old Dominion, a nominee in the “CMA New Artist” category, will be seen playing tunes on Nashville’s Shelby Street Bridge, which, not so coincidentally, will be festooned with the Chevy Silverado, Cruze and Malibu. Popular country musician Luke Bryan will open the vignette, which was taped ahead of tonight’s broadcast.
“You have a different opportunity when you’re in an awards show, or something that’s not your standard drama or sitcom,” explained Jeffrey Weinstock, vice president and creative director at ABC Integrated Marketing, in an interview. “You have more flexibility for storytelling inside of a live event.”
ABC’s efforts to tie Chevrolet to the CMA Awards mark the latest bout of envelope-pushing on behalf of advertisers in some of TV’s most popular spectacles. Earlier this year, for example, Target ran a four-minute live music video featuring Gwen Stefani during a commercial break in CBS’ Grammys broadcast. In ABC’s 2014 Oscars broadcast, Samsung Electronics and its media-buying firm, then known as Starcom Mediavest, worked to get the consumer-electronics maker’s Galaxy Note 3 smartphone into the hands of host Ellen DeGeneres. The result was a memorable selfie featuring the comedienne, Brad Pitt, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence and other A-listers. In 2010, during a broadcast of the People’s Choice Awards, the cast from Fox’s “Glee” dispatched tens of pizza servers to give out slices of Kraft Foods’ DiGiorno pizza.
Chevrolet was interested in offering viewers “unique experiences during CMA Fest and special musical content” that played off the program they tuned in to watch, said Paul Edwards, Chevrolet U.S. vice president of marketing, in a statement.
Unlike popular scripted programs, which feature favorite characters and multiple-episode storylines that must be taken into account for any sort of advertising tie-in, an awards program offers a relative blank slate each year. “When you go with an awards show, every year is different,” noted Meg Smith, senior manager of integrated marketing at ABC. “You have new groups being nominated and new acts performing.”
Setting up the concert was not without challenges. The Shelby Street Bridge is for pedestrians, and had to remain open to foot traffic during the shoot, Weinstock recalled. “You can’t prevent people from going there,” he said. Riverside Entertainment, which produced the concert piece, had to work with Nashville city officials – and also devise a way to get three Chevrolet vehicles on to the span.
Viewers will see other Chevrolet appearances over the course of the evening. Brad Paisley and Charlie Daniels will be spotted in a segment with two different Chevy Camaros, teasing the “New Artist” award, and ABC will run a “billboard” after that award is announced, telling viewers about Chevrolet’s sponsorship.