In the first episode of this season’s run of country-music drama “Nashville,” the giant automaker gave the program’s producers permission to show two of the show’s main characters getting into a serious car accident in a Chevrolet Tahoe – the conclusion of a cliffhanger that ended the show’s first season. At one point, Chevy’s iconic “bow tie” symbol appears in the center of the screen as the camera pans down to let viewers see how badly Rayna James and Deacon Claybourne, played by Connie Britton and Charles Esten, are injured.
Cars get into accidents and people in car wrecks can be injured, maimed or killed. On TV, however, an advertiser’s car usually isn’t associated with the catastrophe. Indeed, most auto advertisers who supply vehicles to the production of a show do so with guarantees that the cars and trucks will not be damaged or driven irresponsibly during the course of the action.
Chevrolet, which is also featured prominently in CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0,” allowed the rules to be bent. “Chevrolet often works with entertainment producers to provide vehicles and asks that the shows model safe driving practices whenever possible,” explained Steve Tihanyi, general director of marketing alliances and branded entertainment for General Motors. In this case, he added, resolving the cliffhanger and “driving viewership back for Season 2 was a solid business reason that justified the action.” GM spent about $67.6 million on ABC in 2012, according to Kantar.
In most scenarios, automakers don’t like to show their cars involved in anything that suggests their operation is less than pristine. A kiwi-green Hyundai Tucson figures prominently in AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” for instance, but a contract between the automaker and the network prevents the vehicle from being used to smash the zombies at the center of the popular drama. When rusted-out or damaged cars are shown in the series, they are typically older models from rival manufacturers.
Some advertisers have embraced the idea of showing cars in full mangle. In 2006, Volkswagen generated buzz by showing ads featuring getting into very graphic accidents from the eye-view of the passengers involved in the mishap. In one spot, a passenger’s head could actually be seen hitting an airbag. By the end of the ad, however, everyone is found to be unharmed, and the ability of the Jetta – the car being advertised – to keep people safe is highlighted.
Subaru in 2010 ran an ad showing a man visiting a wrecked version of one of its vehicles at a junkyard to retrieve some belongings. “My Subaru saved my life,” the guy said. The automaker is, according to Advertising Age, set to run a similar advertisement showing a mutilated car traveling to the junkyard with people who see the wreck being told the passengers inside lived.
GM, which Kantar said spent over $1.64 billion in 2012 to advertise in traditional U.S. media, is willing to consider similar requests. “If the producers feel a scene requires the drama that comes with a vehicle accident, then we listen to the request and try and accommodate,” said GM’s Tihanyi. “It’s good for the partnership to demonstrate that we want to be supportive of the story. ABC declined to make executives available for comment.