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Robert Rodriguez’ El Rey Network Lures General Motors In Ad Pact

Automaker secures appearances in "From Dusk Till Dawn" and other original series, along with promotional content created by filmmaker

Robert Rodriguez

Hyundai likes to back the zombies from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” while Ford has displayed a yen for the fashionable bloodsuckers of the CW’s “Vampire Diaries.” Now General Motors will sponsor the vampires of the Robert Rodriguez cult favorite “From Dusk Till Dawn” along with several other shows on the filmmaker’s infant El Rey cable network.

The large automaker – one of the biggest-spending advertisers in the United States – will have Chevrolets and Cadillacs woven into the new cable network’s “Dawn” along with othersprograms in 2014, said Michael Finn, El Rey’s senior veep of sales and marketing, part of a deal that makes GM the only automaker that will enjoy that privilege in the network’s first year on air. GM cars will also be featured in other series El Rey has in development, Finn said, including one from the team working on Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” led by executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

As part of the deal, Rodriguez and his creative team will create video vignettes ranging from 30 seconds to 90 seconds in length that will promote GM while playing off themes from the network’s various originals shows, Finn said. GM is expected to gain additional international exposure through the overseas licensing of the show, which has the formal title, “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.”

“We look forward to creating breakthrough content that elevates and strengthens GM’s brand awareness, leverages our storytelling expertise and engages our audience to help GM realize their goals,” said Rodriguez in a statement. “This alliance will drive conversation and entice consumers to learn more about their extraordinary products through a highly visual, cinematic experience.”

The ad deal – completed just two weeks ago, after an initial meeting with GM’s ad buyer, Carat, that took place in the last six weeks  – is a christening of sort for El Rey. The network, which debuts this week on Comcast and Time Warner Cable systems and launches elsewhere January 1, is aimed at men between the ages of 18 and 49 as well as Hispanic millenials, and is touting itself as a means for advertisers to reach the young males who often prove tough to find with more traditional TV fare. GM’s sway can be alluring. When OWN, the Oprah Winfrey-backed cable network owned jointly by Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications, lured GM as one of its charter advertisers in 2011, it was seen as a blessing of sorts of the venture by one of the nation’s most serious advertisers.

Like Rodriguez, El Rey is something of a maverick.  Billing itself as having a “renegade” feel, El Rey is slated to feature action-related programming that will span from cult classics to sports to grindhouse films. Several original series, including the serialized take on Rodriguez’ 1996 film “From Dusk Till Dawn,” will debut next year. Univision Communications, the backer of Spanish-language content and video, is a minority owner in El Rey, which is jointly owned by Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures, an incubator for entertainment businesses and was founded by John Fogelman and Cristina Patwa.    El Rey expects to reach 40 million homes early next year, Finn said.

The network’s pitch to advertisers makes full use of the auteur, Finn said, who is no stranger to filming commercials. Who better to create sponsored content than the person whose artistic vision is the raison d’être for the cable outlet?

While GM vehicles will likely not be featured in the debut of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” Finn said, they will be present in subsequent episodes. Already, he said, eight cars had been sent to Austin, Texas, where the series is shooting. Wilmer Valderrama, D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz are among the stars, with Don Johnson and Robert Patrick also slated to appear. Jake Busey, Adrianne Palicki and Lane Garrison were added to the cast this week.

General Motors has pushed for more presence in the programming its supports in recent years. Under Steve Tihanyi, the company’s general director of marketing alliances and branded entertainment, GM secured a significant role in CBS’ “Hawaii Five-O” that makes Chevrolet the exclusive auto sponsor of the series and the maker of the vehicles driven by the heroes of the program. GM is also getting a little daring, allowing the producers of ABC’s “Nashville” to send a Chevy hurtling into a car wreck as part of the country-music drama’s first-season finale and second-season debut. Automakers typically avoid having their vehicles shown being damaged or in an accident.

“GM has always been boldly imaginative and forward thinking,” siaid Tihanyi, in a statement, “so we are excited about working closely with Robert Rodriguez and El Rey Network to communicate our very unique brand proposition in a like-minded environment-one that caters to the taste and minds of our unique and passionate customers.”

The automaker was the third-biggest spender on advertising in traditional U.S. media in 2012, according to Kantar. Only Procter & Gamble and Comcast spent more last year. GM spent approximately $1.64 billion in 2012, down 7% from $1.77 billion in 2011. El Rey executives are holding talks with potential sponsors from the wireless-technology and beer and spirits categories, Finn said.