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NBCU Helps Subaru Go 'Green' All Week Long

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Subaru is back as a major sponsor of NBC's "Green Week" (Nov. 14-21), but with a twist -- this year the network created and produced the client's new ads running in the campaign, for which Subaru is said to be spending more than $10 million. Neither the network nor the client would confirm that figure, however.

The new ads feature Subaru owners who bought the client's vehicles in part due to what they believe is the carmaker's outstanding position on environmental sustainability, the key theme of the NBCU's "Green Week."

According to Alan Bethke, director of marketing communications at Subaru, the client believes that good ideas for ads can come from anywhere, which is why it hired NBCU to produce the spots. And the programming environment NBCU has assembled around its "Green Week," "is a fit that makes sense and a message that people should hear. Subaru owners care [about the environment] and are making an impact on the world," he said.

One of the ads features an engaged couple that will soon marry and settle in Wyoming, where the spot was filmed. The bride-to-be talks about how impressed she was to hear that a Subaru plant in Indiana discards nothing from its manufacturing process into landfills. "If they can do it, I feel like I can do it in my life," she says.

According to Bethke, feedback from last year's campaign was also a factor in the client's return this year. An NBC analysis of Nielsen IAG data showed that viewers who saw last year's "Green Week" Subaru spots were 64 percent more likely to remember seeing Subaru advertising than those who didn't but saw the client's ads elsewhere. "It's important because it showed viewers identified with" the messages, said Bethke.

NBCU programs devote two weeks to the theme of environmental sustainability each year -- one in the spring and one in the fall -- and the initiative has evolved into a major revenue producer, said to exceed $100 million annually, although the company would not discuss the dollars involved.

According to Mike Pilot, president of sales and marketing at NBCU, doing creative work for advertisers is a growing side business for the company, although he stressed that the network doesn't have the resources to do it for all clients. "It's reserved for key partnerships," he said.

Still, the network has created dozens of ads for clients. "We're doing more and more of it," said Pilot. In addition to the work for Subaru, the network produced several ads for client American Express last year for its "Shine a Light" campaign, which promoted the efforts of small businesses.

According to Pilot, it was the switch to the C3 commercial ratings system three years ago that prompted the network to get into the business of doing creative advertising work for clients. With the switch to a ratings system that measured viewing to ads instead of programs, "we were looking for ways to hold viewers in pods," he said.

The custom work for clients frequently connects the advertiser and NBCU networks to common themes in commercials. For example, one of the Subaru spots for the USA Network features an outdoorsy environmentalist. At the end of the ad, he concludes, "I'm a character and Subaru is my car." The cable network is branded around the "Characters welcome" tagline.

About a half-dozen clients are creating campaigns tied to this year's "Green Week." In addition to Subaru, Procter & Gamble, NBCU parent General Electric and Home Depot are returning sponsors, per sources. The network declined to identify non-Subaru sponsors, citing competitive sensitivities.

The Subaru spots will run in NBC prime time, as well as on NBCU-owned cable networks USA, Syfy and MSNBC.