Ford Makes U-Turn to Support Fox’s ’24’ After Long Absence

Brian Steinberg
Variety

Jack Bauer could save U.S. Presidents and endure horrendous bouts of torture. But there’s one thing this TV hero was never able to accomplish: Getting Ford Motor Co. to return as a major sponsor of his popular Fox drama, “24.”

When “24: Legacy,” a retooled version of the popular spy drama, debuts on Fox’s airwaves following the network’s broadcast of Super Bowl LI in January, it will mark a return of sorts for Ford, which pulled back from the series slightly after its third season and in a more pronounced way after its sixth. The series’ new protagonist, a character named Eric Carter (played by actor Corey Hawkins), will be spotted driving a Ford pick-up truck, while other Ford vehicles are expected to appear in the series throughout the season.

In an early screening of the series’ pilot, Ford was listed as a “24” sponsor, as was consumer-electronics manufacturer Samsung. During a presentation at an annual Television Critics Association this past summer. Fox Television Group co-chairman and co-CEO Dana Walden suggested Samsung would have a broader partnership with the drama. Ford and Fox declined to make executives available for comment.

Ford’s return to the series in such a major way (individual Ford ads have run in “24” in the interim, to be sure, and its vehicles have been used as props) is a testament to the power an advertiser can gain by having a strong association with a particular program, event or genre. PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch InBev have sponsored the Super Bowl for so long their advertising is expected as part of the experience. General Electric has woven itself into NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” as the underwriter of an occasional segment about young inventors. AT&T has been tied to TBS’ “Conan” since the late-night program launched in 2010.

Ford’s turn with “24” proved to be a harbinger of things to come in the evolving business of TV advertising. When Ford was a major sponsor of the series in 2003 and 2004, it opened two consecutive seasons with commercial-free premieres that were book-ended by longer-than-normal ads for Ford and played off the look and feel of the series. In one of the executions, a character named “Mr. Bauer” drove a Ford F-150 pick-up. Ford’s Expedition was also featured during one of the seasons.

In 2016, ads have grown even more intertwined with shows, as anyone who has seen Hyundai and Microsoft ads airing during AMC’s “The Walking Dead” that riff on that show’s zombie themes can tell you.

Fox had to work harder than usual to get the earlier Ford ads to work. Making the episodes commercial free meant having to find time in other shows for the network’s affiliates, which had to give up precious local ad minutes as part of the proceedings.

After Ford decided to tamp down the prominence of its ad support in 2004, other automakers grew interested. Agent Bauer suddenly seemed quite pleased with a Hyundai Genesis in both “24: Redemption,” a TV movie based on the series, as well as in the show’s seventh season. More recently, when Fox launched a limited run of “24” in the late Spring of 2014, Chrysler was attached to the show, along with Sprint. Cisco, Allstate and Unilever have also been associated with the series at different times in its history.

Ford and Fox have worked together in noticeable ways for years. Ford was a longtime sponsor of “American Idol,” and continues to be associated with the network’s comic-book serial “Gotham.” Ford once even managed to crash into sitcom “New Girl,” gaining prominent in-show placement (and dialogue) when the title character took a job as a hostess at an auto show. Some critics complained the automaker’s outsize presence in the scene distracted viewers from the program.

Taking part in “24” won’t be cheap. Ford spent almost $10.2 million on “24” in 2003, according to ad-spend tracker Kantar, followed by a little more than $6.5 million in 2004. The average cost of an ad in the show for this season is said to total around $138,720, according to Variety’s annual survey of primetime commercial prices. Some packages associated with the program are believed to cost more.

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