Why Chrysler Treated ABC’s ‘American Music Awards’ Like The Super Bowl

ABC’s “American Music Awards” isn’t the biggest event on TV, but one of its sponsors treated the awards show as though it was.

Chrysler Group ran four 30-second spots during the two-hour special, each featuring portions of music videos featuring new music from Interscope Records artists. Fergie promoted Chrysler while highlighting her song “L.A. Love.” Eminem previewed a video for his song “Guts Over Fear” while throwing a spotlight on the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Philip Phillips sang “Unpack Your Heart” while his ad promoted Ram Trucks. And Imagine Dragons helped advertise Jeep as they unveiled a sneak peek at a video for “I Bet My Life.” Interscope ran a 60-second spot during the program that featured Gwen Stefani and her song “Spark The Fire” while tipping a promotional hat to Chrysler, Ram Trucks, Fiat and Jeep.

The ads will never appear on TV again, says Olivier Francois, Chrysler Group’s chief marketing officer (though they will show up on YouTube) – adding to their mystique. “We are taking our ad time and almost handing it over to five artists, five bands,” he said, adding, “This is how you generate the maximum bang for your buck.”

Executives at the automaker say they aren’t necessarily increasing the amount of money they invest in big-ticket TV programs like the Super Bowl, the Golden Globes and the American Music Awards, but Chrysler’s treatment of Sunday night’s festivities highlights the new view advertisers are taking of these events and many others like them. Awards programming has long been a place to court large numbers of potential customers, but in recent months, advertisers have worked to become more a part of the action, rather than maintaining a respectful distance.

Samsung raised awareness of the potential of awards programs earlier this year when it negotiated to have its smartphones appear during the Oscars broadcast on ABC. Ellen DeGeneres used a Samsung device to take a much-celebrated “selfie” that included audience members like Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep. The photo opportunity may have not been planned, but the use of Samsung gadgets certainly was. During August’s telecast of the Video Music Awards on MTV, Unilever sponsored live segments that featured Iggy Azalea, who is hosting the network’s “House of Style.”

Chrysler has in recent years taken a great interest in making a spectacle during TV spectacles. For several years, the automaker has run ads that are two minutes in length – super-sized by industry standards – during the Super Bowl. One 2011 spot featured a song from Eminem and put forth the notion Detroit had bounced back from a period of economic malaise. In 2012, Clint Eastwood suggested America was lifting itself out of the recent economic recession. This year, Chrysler enlisted Bob Dylan to tout the benefits of buying a car made in America. Chrysler executives declined to say if the company would advertise in NBC’s 2015 broadcast of the Super Bowl in early February.

Ad executives familiar with the practice of weaving advertisers into shows say awards fests both small and large have gained new cachet on Madison Avenue. The programs tend to draw passionate crowds who are eager to talk about what they see on TV on social media, giving a sort of “halo effect” to the advertising. Creating ads that play off the programming help boost their potential to stir conversation and buzz.

Chrysler has in recent years sponsored the Golden Globes, the Latino Grammys and the Academy of Country Music Awards, said Marissa Hunter, global director of brand marketing and head of advertising for Chrysler’s Ram Trucks. The events are “very important for us because of the opportunity to do a better job begin relevant and develop relationships.”

As awards season gets underway in earnest, viewers should monitor the broadcasts to see whether advertisers are getting freer rein.

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