Jay Leno Helps Shell Promote Its Annual Fuel Efficiency Challenge

Student contest shifts to Detroit in its 30th year

Seeking to raise the profile of Shell's long-running fuel efficiency challenge for students, MediaCom has turned to Jay Leno, Detroit and NBCUniversal's Today.

Leno stars in an ad about the annual challenge, known as Eco-marathon, which recognizes the most efficient cars that students create by fuel type. He'll also make an appearance at the three-day event, taking place Friday through Sunday in the Motor City rather than Shell's home city of Houston. Some 1,000 high school and college students from North America, Central America and South America will attend.

Shell chose Leno partly for his celebrity but also to associate with one of the biggest gear heads around. The promotional ad takes place at his garage in Burbank, Calif., which holds a bevy of vintage models.

Leno is a "connoisseur of great cars," said Dean Aragon, CEO of Shell Brands International and global vp of brand. "So, we felt that he was going to be a very appropriate ambassador for the message."

Leno also has a cable show to promote. Jay Leno's Garage, a popular Web series that explores the world of car collectors, is shifting to CNBC later this year, and one of its first episodes will include a segment on Eco-marathon, according to Larry Swyer, a managing partner at MediaCom. Shell also will advertise on the show.

While Leno shares the students' love for cars, his vehicles are decidedly less efficient than theirs. In fact, that's the punch line of the ad, in which Leno shows students from Northern Illinois University some of his collection.

The ad, created by NBCU's in-house agency, has been running on Today and CNBC since last week. Also, to more broadly promote student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Today invited parents to submit ideas and inventions from their children. And the winner of that contest, known as Make the Future, will appear on the show tomorrow.

Finally, NBCU is producing a series of six videos that will tell the back story of student teams prepping and driving their vehicles in Detroit, where judges measure efficiency based on several runs around a track. Each video will last two to four minutes and appear on Shell and NBCU websites during the next month, said Geoffrey Campbell, senior director of content at MediaCom Entertainment.

Collectively, the pre- and post-push behind Shell's Eco-marathon this year is the largest since the event began in 1985. And in the big picture, the corporate initiative positions Shell as a future-focused oil company that embraces new ideas from young minds, much like Intel's international science and engineering fair and General Electric's prize for young life scientists. Aragon welcomes the comparison, and describes such efforts as a "great united push."

"There are real problems about the future of energy, the future of mobility, and we want to encourage more young minds to actually pursue a career" in science, tech, engineering and math, he added. "That's a big part of Shell's messaging and a big need of the Shell business."