Chevrolet's sponsorship of Simon Cowell's new X Factor TV show is set to square off against Ford's long-standing partnership with Simon Cowell's old show, American Idol. Both carmakers are seeking culturally relevant integrations for their products due to the increasingly common use of DVRs which let consumers zip through regularly programmed commercials.

Like American Idol, X Factor is a singing competition, but it's open to a wider range of performers including musical groups. The winning act will receive a $5 million recording contract.

Ford has flourished with fully integrated Idol videos highlighting Ford's technology and design, but Fox does not seem willing to let Chevrolet intrude on its new talent contest to the same extent. Perhaps having learned the limitations of featuring only one car brand so prominently, the executives at X Factor want to accommodate a broader array of marketing partners than they did on Idol.

The lead sponsor of X Factor - with a reported $60 million investment - will be Pepsi, a brand that has likely been bristling over the splash Coca Cola has made on Idol.

As for Chevrolet's X Factor relationship, Keith Hindle, one of the show's producers, says that they will be finding more subtle approaches. "X Factor features a lot of telephoning of judges and discussion of the groups they represent as they travel to coach various contestants. That gives us the ability to amp that up a bit and feature in-car technology. That was one of the key hooks."

Jean Rossi, Fox's executive VP-Sales told AdWeek magazine that Chevrolet will, however, be the exclusive automotive sponsor of off-air and digital promotions related to X Factor, so we can expect some Ford-style web programs involving consumers and various Chevys.

Producer Hindle says that there would be "several instances of formal integration that will happen across the season, or on a specific number of episides." And this seems to compatible with what GM is looking for. With five ads during this year's Super Bowl and an integrated video with the cast of Glee singing "See the USA in Your Chevrolet," Chevy clearly means business.

"We want to be more a part of culturally relevant events here in the US as well as globally," explained Kevin Mayer, director of advertising and sales promotion for Chevrolet. And what does he think of the future of X Factor? "We see this as one of the next big things on television."

And Mayer believes that this is the wave of the future based on the usage of DVRs and people who skip past commercials in regular programming. "The more you can be a part of the show itself in an organic way - that's really the caveat - the greater connection you can have with the audience. That's what everyone is trying for."

But it remains to be seen if both the X Factor and Chevrolet's sponsorship will get to the level of the American Idol/Ford franchise. Although the investment Chevrolet is putting into the project is yet unknown, there is more than just a singing competition at stake - it's a battle of the two top American car brands to win the hearts of television viewers worldwide.

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Joni Gray is a long-standing member of the automotive industry and has worked on both the corporate and publishing sides of the business. Over the past 20 years, she has managed advertising and marketing programs at Mazda, Hyundai and Honda and has been an editor at both Kelley Blue Book and the Los Angeles Times.

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