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How Chevrolet Got The 'Glee' Treatment

As the Green Bay Packers celebrated winning the Vince Lombardi trophy down on the field of Cowboys Stadium, executives from General Motors, media agency Starcom and Fox were in a skybox watching Glee on TV and congratulating each other for pulling off an advertising integration worthy of the Super Bowl.

The automaker used one of its $3 million commercials during the big game to urge viewers to stay tuned after the game when a special edition of Glee would air. The show led off with a custom-made two minute spot featuring performers from the hit show singing and dancing to the famous jingle "See the USA In a Chevrolet." (See the spot at the bottom of the article)

With 111 million viewers watching the Super Bowl and 26.8 million watching Glee, this was a big deal.

"We're able to put our product on display with the hottest cast on television doing what they do best which is basically to Glee-ize songs and it happens to be a song about us. So it was like a trifecta of great opportunity to bring it together," said Kevin Mayer director of advertising and sales promotion for Chevy. "The objective for us was to be relevant, to be part of contemporary conversation, and I think the two minute spot, just after the Super Bowl in Glee, there couldn't have been a better placement for it."

During last year's upfronts, Fox announced that was giving the coveted time slot following the Super Bowl to Glee, which had broken out as a hit in its first season. General Motors immediately saw an opportunity and seized it.

"Literally, at the upfront party, GM approached us and we've been talking ever since then. These things, as you know, take a long time," said Jean Rossi, executive VP of ad sales at Fox and president of its Fox One integrated sales unit.

GM, increasing its ad spending since being bailed out by the U.S. government, had already decided it was time to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2008. With Glee set to follow the big game, Starcom, the automaker's media agency brought Fox its big idea: having Glee producer Ryan Murphy create a Super Bowl "Glee-mercial," said Mike Rosen, president and director of activation at Starcom. "Going into season two we were seeking something bold and a break out idea to elevate the partnership."

GM and Glee had already developed a special relationship.

"Fox has been an oustanding partner for us," said Trina Barta, manager of media mperations for GM.

"They knew that we took a chance on the show and early on they said ‘do you guys want to do something with us with the Super Bowl' and we said "absolutely.'"

"GM took a pretty big leap of faith by betting on a new show that seemed to break all conventions in Glee," said Starcom's Rosen. GM bought ads in the show and integrated some of its vehicles into Glee episodes, including last year's season opener, in which Chevrolet was the only auto advertiser.

Starting early with a show often establishes a low base price for spots in the future, especially if it turns out to be a hit. But Rosen says cost wasn't the big issue in the relationship with Glee.

"It's really about establishing a true partnership with the show and developing a level of trust between the show, the creators, the studio, the network and the advertiser," he said. "We didn't look at it as a chance to get a special deal so much as a chance to build something that ultimately would pay off in ways that go above and beyond the cost of 30-second spots. And that is evidence by what happened on Sunday night."

From the beginning, the idea was to use the Super Bowl to promote what GM would do in Glee right after the game. At the upfront, three minutes of time was bought in the post-Super Bowl episode, though exactly how that time was to be used wasn't yet determined.

Ultimately, Fox wound up creating a unique pod at the beginning of the show that was GM's alone. It included the two-minute musical performance and a Chevrolet product spot. Another Chevy spot ran later in the episode.

But there were months of discussion and collaboration among GM, it's agencies, Fox and the show's producers that shaped what appeared in that expensive air time.

Chevrolet's advertising agency, Goodby Silverstein, had been looking for ways to use the See the USA song, Chevy's Mayer recalled. "When this Glee thing started getting traction, it made a lot of sense. Like wow, can we take this song, can we get Ryan Murphy and cast to basically contemporize the song? It really came together nicely."

In addition to Murphy, Chevy and its agency's worked with director Alfonso Gomez, song producer Adam Andrews and cinematographer Russell Carpenter. "It was a first class production. We were along for the ride all the say," Mayer says. "We basically did that in about 2 ½ days, which for a number that large was pretty epic, they were saying."

Mayer says that when he saw the two-minute spot, Chevy began looking for other ways to use the material, including finding time for it within the Super Bowl. "Ultimately, we stuck with the original plan, which was a 30 in the game and the two minute spot in Glee."

One thing that Chevy was nervous about was the spot running in the Super Bowl. "We spent a lot of time with Fox and the production group ensuring that [the 30-second spot], while it obviously was very Glee-like because it had to be--it was really a Glee tune in--that it felt very much like Chevy was a part of it," Mayer said. The final promos showed the characters from Glee talking about winning a Chevy Cruze. It showed a poster of the car and ended with a Chevy logo on the screen. "For us it felt just as much like a Chevy commercial as it did a Glee commercial and that was the objective," he said.

Obviously, none of this was cheap. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to talk about exactly how much money this cost.

Fox's Rossi says that there was enough revenue involved to make all of the work that was put in worth it, as opposed to selling spots in Glee in 30-second bites. It also made a big advertiser happy. "Obviously we're incentivized to do this from the client point of view," she said.

"We bake a lot of it into our media buy so you kind of look at it as kind of an integration package and it was definitely an investment by us, but well paid off in the end," says Mayer.

At first glance, the effort appears to have paid off.

Mayer says online feedback is very strong, both in terms of the video being replayed and terms of social media conversations.

"Literally, people are on line saying that that I'm going to consider Chevy now. These are obviously Glee fans, so I think we've electrified an entire new buyer base that wouldn't have considered us in the past," he said.

He's also gotten a lot of emails from Chevy dealers. "They loved it. They thought it contemporized the brand. They thought it was a huge coup to be in Glee, the first pod, and basically own the entire pod," he said.

Chevy is looking for more ways to use the video, which it has rights to for another six months. A one-minute version has been created that will be used as cinema advertising and it may appear during other shows on Fox. Also, on Fox's website for Glee, is an online locker sponsored by Chevy where Chevy's Glee-related content can still be accessed.

A few days after the Super Bowl, Chevy announced that it would be the official sponsor of Glee Live, a series of concerts featuring performers from the TV shows. "It's their cast on stage travelling around the country, so we're excited to be a big part of that," Mayer said.

Fox's Rossi believes the Glee effort-- integrating sponsors with popular programming during big events -- is a sign of things to come.

"The more we have thought about it over this weekend, the fact is we took it to a whole new level in terms of tying all the pieces together. My guess is it's never been done before at this level in front of this many viewers," she said.

"It will be three years before we can do it in the Super Bowl again, but we really do believe this is what our clients want and where the business is going," she said. "But it takes a lot of patience and a lot of people willing to share their objectives."