Tonight when viewers tune into the much-anticipated U.S. debut of The X Factor, they’ll see a star from another Fox series: Glee. Kevin McHale, who plays the wheelchair-bound Artie Abrams character in the hit show, is hosting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the new Simon Cowell talent search program, courtesy of Pepsi.
Cowell, of course, made his name on American Idol which has long boasted Coca-Cola as a major sponsor. Now as the talent impresario fronts Idol’s newest rival, he’s lined up Coke’s biggest competitor, PepsiCo, as the lead marketer behind X Factor. Like Coke with American Idol, Pepsi’s branding will be visible throughout The X Factor’s format, and the marketer has just launched a new retail promotion around the show. But the company has also been actively involved in content integration like the McHale segment, and Pepsi will feature the show’s winner in a Super Bowl commercial in February.
Chad Stubbs, director of media and entertainment engagement at Pepsi North America, likens the company’s role at The X Factor to “quasi-producer."
“We’ve been thinking long and hard about our investment in The X Factor and how to make the connection with consumers in a way that goes beyond a passive sponsorship,” he said. “Since our first meeting with Simon Cowell, we’ve had a great partnership with him. We jointly came up with the idea of what would be a great prize in giving away a Pepsi commercial on the Super Bowl. It’s a perfect example of the close relationship we have with the show where that commercial will literally become part of the story line throughout the season.”
Pepsi is estimated to be spending up to $60 million for the sponsorship of the show. The X Factor association brings the marketer back to its music roots when Pepsi ran high-profile advertising featuring performers like Michael Jackson and Britney Spears.
The soft drink giant has been working with OMD’s new custom media and content unit, Content Collective. Overseeing The X Factor sponsorship is Claudia Cahill, the chief content officer at the Omnicom media unit, who previously led custom content development and production for the Pepsi Refresh Project.
“It’s a very intricate deal, and we’ve been doing everything from producing the integration to custom work to exchange of media assets,” she said. “Every level of Pepsi’s business is being affected by this sponsorship.”
For the past eight years, The X Factor was the top entertainment program on British TV and has launched the careers of pop stars like Leona Lewis. Fox is betting the show will have similar success in the U.S.