'Food Network Star' Suits Volkswagen’s Taste

Related: Lifestyle Productions Still Big for Tremendous

Proof that you don’t have to be an entrée or an appliance to advertise in food and lifestyle programming—Volkswagen will be the presenting sponsor of Food Network Star, the channel’s top franchise.

The automaker’s involvement will run from soup to nuts, according to Karen Grinthal, senior VP for ad sales at Food Network. VW’s TDI diesels will be integrated into seven of the series’ 11 episodes. They will be in digital content. They’re even integrated into all elements of the promotional campaign for the show, something parent company Scripps Networks Interactive has never done before.

Why is an automaker advertising in a cooking competition? Grinthal says VW wants to show how its diesels don’t compromise on performance or efficiency. Food Network Star is all about performing—in the kitchen and on TV. And in one integration, each of the contestants drives a VW while shopping on a Fourth of July outing that needs to be efficient. “We’ve taken the creative brief from the client and we’re pyschographically reinforcing it as we go through the challenges,” she says.

Scripps focuses on lifestyle programming with its networks, which include HGTV, Travel Channel, DIY and Cooking Channel. About 40% of the advertising on those channels is endemic—meaning food marketers advertise on Food Network—but the networks are also known for high-income viewers whose buying habits are influenced by the programs and commercials they watch.

Food Network has research showing that among buyers of premium and luxury cars, food itself is a big interest. The viewers love dining out, they love traveling. “The whole idea of a food explorer is very, very central to many automotive brands,” Grinthal says.

That’s why, despite having a high composition of female viewers, automotive remains a solid category for Food Network, she adds.

In addition to TV, VW is also integrated into digital content created for Food Network. In the “Star Salvation” segment online, in which defeated contestants battle for a chance to return to the show, the winners are seen heading back in a VW.

In promos, a contestant is shown heading to the competition in a VW. The spots will run before the premiere and well into the season. “They’re getting tremendous added value with all the promotion across all the platforms that we have to offer,” says Grinthal.

The network has even created a logo for the program that shows several vehicles converging to form a star.

Grinthal says VW struck the deal after the upfront, but the sponsorship might appear in the clip reels of standout campaigns that are shown during Scripps’ presentations. “That’s our Academy Awards. And clients want to be in it,” she says.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.