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American Idol Finalists Embrace Their Inner Ford

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

Another year, another season of American Idol. Love it or hate it, with its domination of the airwaves three nights a week, the show stands today as one of the most successful reality TV programs of all time and Fox television's goose that laid the golden egg. Now in its 10th year, Ford again sits in the automotive cat bird seat next to that egg as one of the main sponsors of the show.

On last Thursday's show alone, when the final 13 were chosen, Nielson ratings reported a whopping 26.3 million people tuned in. These numbers are serious business for sponsors like Ford. The Ford Focus, this year's featured product, is a car aimed at a burgeoning young target audience – many of whom are watching.

The company has reportedly spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" on the global Ford Focus launch – with the first commercial run during last week's show. And contestants quickly learn to fully embrace Ford's products in the hopes that, if they make it into the top three, they may drive away in a Ford, just as the top three in last year's season did in the Ford Fiesta.

After Thursday's elimination round, we were able to chat with a few of this year's contenders as they were launched into widespread fame and the media spotlight. Thanks to the best media training money can buy, talking to this group about cars must be strictly "Ford" focused (pun intended). Our question to them: If you were a car, which Ford product would you be, and why? The quick-witted young singers responded with some very quotable quotes.

Country crooner from Garner, North Carolina, Scotty McCreery had only one vehicle in mind. "That's easy, Ford F-150. Go big or go home. That's what my family's all about back home, man."

Blues bassist, Casey Abrams from Idyllwild, CA wanted his choice of car to be a fun one. He quipped, "You know, I'd have to say I'm a Ford Fiesta, because I like to party."

The self-assured Ashthon Jones from Nashville, Tennessee had complete confidence in her answer. "I see myself in candy red Mustang with some 22's on it… oh yeah."

New Yorker, Pia Toscano, whose high, smooth tones were influenced by Mariah, Whitney and Celine, has only one thing in mind. "I'd say I'm more like a Ford Focus - because I am totally focused on my singing career."

Hilarious Los Angeles native, Jacob Lusk, was all about a classic Ford he's been dreaming of for years. He says, "It's got to be an older Ford Bronco. And I want it in black. Big, black and sexy, like me."

Thia Megia has already put the hilly, rural community of Mountain House, California (near Hayward) on the map, and so her choice of a Ford is a natural one. Thia said, "I pick the Ford Escape, because I'm an adventurer."

Paul McDonald from Huntsville, Alabama evoked Steve McQueen. "I'm like a 1968 Mustang GT, like the one in the movie, Bullitt. Old school muscle, yeah, that's me."

Haley Reinhart of Chicago, Illinois see's herself in a Ford classic – the Thunderbird. "I'm more like a Thunderbird because I want to soar like a bird!"

Although we missed the chance to speak with Naima, Stefano, Karen, James and Lauren, we did chat with another celebrity attending the press event from Fox's other popular hit, Glee. It was Dot Jones, who plays Coach Beast on the show. After hearing we were asking about Ford, she pleaded with us to tell Ford how much she wanted a Ford F-150 Harley Davidson edition. Immediately, we could see Dot in this truck. Ford, what do you think?

No doubt we will be seeing some of the final contestants doing Ford "music videos" (never call them commercials), and lots more posing for photos around the Focus and other Ford products. A more detailed look at the cars' product technology will be featured in the promotional efforts this year. And for good reason. The Focus has iPod and Bluetooth connectivity and GPS real-time tracking and includes an eight-inch touch screen, Wi-Fi capability and parking assist that helps drivers parallel park. And to reach a young buyer who typically cares more about what's in the dash than what's under the hood, it's a shrewd strategic move on Ford's part.

Ford also makes sure that DVR-recording, remote TV "zappers" don't miss the message. Ford product and logos are placed throughout the meat of the show's content – making a compelling marketing case for integrated promotional advertising at its best. Coca-Cola is right in there with them, with celebrity judges sipping away in branded cups during the show. (We did, however, notice that Steven Tyler was drinking hot water from his cup during the elimination show.) AT&T is the other key sponsor with its special text voting and placement around the audience voting segments.

In light of how each sponsor's products interact with the future American Idols, Ford seems to hold the advantage. These struggling young artists will be shot in and around these cars right at the brink of their own fame and fortune. A position any car company should envy.

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American Idol Finalists Embrace Their Inner Ford - Autotrader