IFC’s Sense of Humor A Good Fit for Subaru

Take a network with an offbeat sense of humor, a show about eccentric residents of an out-of-the-way city and a quirky automaker and you get a media partnership that has shown unusual growth over the past four years.

Subaru, a car with a small but dedicated customer base, began advertising on IFC’s Portlandia when the show first launched. At the time, IFC was just beginning to accept commercials, abandoning its sponsorship model.

Now Subaru is the presenting sponsor of Portlandia, with its vehicles integrated into episodes of the comedy. For season 4, Subaru and IFC have also created their first Web series, with the car front and center as Portlandia stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein tailgate before a live presentation of NPR’s Prairie Home Companion. It’s already had about 282,000 views.

“People like the show and our role in that,” says Alan Bethke, VP of marketing for Subaru. “We know the show has grown immensely in popularity and it reaches a wide audience.”

And as the partnership has grown, so has the share of Subaru’s market budget devoted to Portlandia, he says.

Portlandia chronicles the idiosyncrasies of the residents of the Pacific Northwestern city. One thing that’s out of the ordinary about Portland is that it is one of Subaru’s most important markets for sales.

“The Subaru brand generally has a reputation for being a good brand, a genuine straightforward brand, wholesome, green-thinking, and a lot of the folks who live up in that market are as well,” says Bethke. “They like to be outdoors. They like to take care of the environment. They like to stay active. Our brand fits that and our products fit that with capability, versatility, all-wheel drive. People value that up there.”

That means it’s not a stretch to see Subarus on the show. “Sometimes you watch a show and you know that the character is driving the car because it’s a paid placement,” says Michael McHale, director of corporate communications at Subaru. “In Portland, people drive Subarus, so there were Subarus in the show,” Bethke continues. In addition to product placement, the automaker started doing what it calls “active integrations” that give the car more of a role.

In one sketch, two drivers come to an intersection with a four-way stop. Each waves the other to go first, but each insists the other goes first. This goes on for a while. Both drive Subarus. “A Subaru owner is a nice person and one that normally lets the person coming in the other direction go first. That’s the Subaru mindset,” Bethke says.

The integrations are designed to give people a sense of what Subaru is all about. “We’re not overly trying to sell them something today. But they now have a better idea of Subaru and a view of who we are,” says McHale.

Gave at The Office

Subaru also has a program that reaches out to producers in search of characters who would drive Subarus. If the fit is right, a car is provided. In The Office, for example, Jim and Pam owned a Subaru. That wasn’t a sponsorship deal like the one with IFC. “They’re great to work with. The network, just like our brand over these years, has seen a lot of growth, and they’ve produced a lot of great content,” McHale says.

Blake Callaway, executive VP of marketing and digital media at IFC, says Subaru gets good content because they want to be organic and not feel like a commercial. “Their only rule, it’s sort of funny, is they want everyone to make sure they’re wearing seat belts and don’t text and drive. And other than that, they sort of hand it over to the show to make sure that Subaru’s represented.”

This season, when IFC began promoting the new season of Portlandia, it released a scene it created with Subaru. “We released it not as a branded content piece, but just as the first look at this season’s Portlandia, and it just so happened that Subaru was in it,” Callaway says.

IFC does integrations in several of its shows. “We weren’t always ad supported so we had this branded entertainment baked into our DNA,” Callaway says. And when other advertisers see campaigns like Subaru’s, “it’s a good calling card.”


Curiosity killed the cat, but it appears to be good for advertisers.

The object of Discovery Communications’ programming has long been to satisfy viewers’ curiosity. At the company’s upfront presentation this week in New York, ad sales president Joe Abruzzese will talk about research showing that not only are consumers more likely to remember and share things they learn from shows on Discovery, but they are also more likely to recall and act on ad messages they see on commercials during those shows.

“We can actually show that there’s a higher level of action across a number of different dimensions for advertisers that run in our programming compared to some high-quality programming on other networks,” says Beth Rockwood, Discovery senior VP-market resources.

Discovery did a series of research projects to quantify what it’s calling “The Curiosity Effect.” It showed clips of programs such as Gold Rush, Long Island Medium and Through the Wormhole to viewers, along with programs from competitive networks. The Discovery shows doubled their rivals in a number of engagement measures, Rockwood says.

Discovery then looked to see if the programming created a halo for advertisers and found viewers were 15%-25% more likely to talk about brands and more inclined to purchase them when spots aired in Discovery shows.

“The real payoff there is when you take the content that we’re creating for the viewers and match that with [integrations] we’re developing for the advertisers,” Rockwood says. “You’re getting all of that same engagement coming through for the viewers and helping the advertisers get that same stickiness around what they’re trying to communicate.”

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.