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Scripps Puts Autos In Driver’s Seat

Scripps Networks is revving up three of its biggest series this month and July, and it has sold automakers major sponsorships in each of them.

General Motors’ GMC truck division is sponsoring Man v. Food Nation on Travel Channel. GM’s Buick unit is sponsoring Food Network’s Next Food Network Star and BMW is sponsoring HGTV’s Design Star. Each sponsorship involves integrations and multiplatform executions.

While Travel Channel might be a natural fit for auto advertising, what’s the appeal of channels about home design and cooking? “I think one of the reasons why they like us so much is the income skew,” says Jon Steinlauf, senior VP, ad sales at Scripps Networks. “As an auto manufacturer you really have to target the top half of the country economically, because most of the new cars today are being purchased by people who are in that top half because they can either get credit or have the disposable income.”

The upscale audiences of the Scripps channels “changes the way we look to an automaker from a strategic standpoint,” Steinlauf says.

Auto category spending on Scripps Networks channels was up 55% in the first quarter. And for the full year 2010, spending was up 45%. That’s big dollars, because auto is one of the company’s top five categories.

“In 2009 that wasn’t a good thing for automakers to be a top-five category,” Steinlauf says, noting that domestic and import autos cut spending in the face of the recession. But since then ad budgets have rebounded. “In 2010 it was a good thing. In 2011, there’s certainly some problems caused by natural disasters in Japan, but from what we’ve seen so far in the first quarter and the second quarter and the upfront registrations, the auto category is staying strong for us.”

While Steinlauf declined to say how much any of these automakers spend with Scripps, the amount is large enough to justify special attention.

The new season of Travel Channel’s most-watched show, Man v. Food Nation, which launched June 1, is being sponsored by GMC. In addition to getting sponsorship billboards in every episode, GMC will have vehicles integrated into two episodes. In the episode due to air July 13, host Adam Richman will travel to challenges around the Gulf Coast in GMC’s high end Acadia Denali. In some scenes, features of the vehicle important to GMC, such as its rear-view camera and its navigation system—are featured. In the episode scheduled to air Sept. 28, Richman will be shown driving California’s Pacific Coast Highway in a Sierra Denali. The integration will highlight a feature that enables driving directions to be downloaded through the OnStar system.

Scripps is also creating separate 30-second tune-in promos for each week’s episode that will run on Travel Channel. The promos feature Richman in the GMC vehicle, extending the integrations, and will be tagged saying that Man v. Food Nation is brought to you by GMC.

As part of its sponsorship of Next Food Network Star, Buick is the exclusive auto advertiser in the series for all 11 weeks. A Buick vehicle will be integrated into every episode this season. The show’s contestants will be transported to and from their cooking challenges in a Buick Enclave, a luxury crossover.

Buick and Scripps have also teamed up to produce a series of public service announcements promoting a campaign against summer childhood hunger by the charitable organization Share Our Strength. The spots feature Aarti Sequeira, the winner of season 6 of the Next Food Network Star. Buick, which also sponsored Next Food Network Star last year, has been using Sequeira as a product endorser, extending their relationship between seasons of the show. In the PSAs, she visits organizations that work with Share Our Strength in a Buick Regal and promotes the summer meals for kids program. In addition to airing on Food Network, the spots will appear on, Buick’s Facebook page and Buick’s Website.

A print ad for Buick will also appear in Food Network magazine, adjacent to editorial coverage profiling this season’s contestants on the series.

Steinlauf says Buick is an especially good fit with Next Food Network Star because the Buick brand has a culinary passion point as part of its brand profile. “That is one of the reasons why they put a lot of Buick advertising on Food Network and Cooking Channel,” he says.

BMW is the exclusive auto sponsor of HGTV’s Design Star, that network’s top-rated show, which will have its season premiere July 11. BMW vehicles will also be integrated into three episodes of the series. In one, David Bromstad, season-one winner and now a host/mentor on the show, will arrive at the design challenge in a BMW Z4. In another, cohost Tanika Ray will arrive at the “reveal” at the end of the show in a Beemer. She will use language from BMW’s marketing vocabulary—elegance, design, performance—to describe the winning effort.

BMW will also be integrated into the home page and take over various sections of the site on the days after the integrations appear on the show.

“Vehicle design and aesthetics is the No. 1 reason of purchase for BMW customers around the world. HGTV’s Design Star was a perfect opportunity to showcase the striking design of the BMW Z4 in a natural way since it was integrated into the content of a show focused on design,” says Stacy Morris, marketing communications manager for BMW of North America. “Design Star also appeals to BMW because we use design competitions to select the final design for all our vehicles.”

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