NEW YORK Procter & Gamble's Gillette is betting that people want to watch a 30-minute show that is blanketed by Gillette branding.
The company debuts its seven-episode racing reality series, Fast Cars & Superstars: Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race, tonight.
The program airs on ABC before the NBA finals and concludes on June 24.
Fast Cars follows the Gillette Young Guns—top Nascar drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne—as they teach celebrities the finer points of race driving. Tennis star Serena Williams and Star Trek icon William Shatner will participate.
The celebrities compete in time trials and accuracy tests, with one eliminated per episode until a winner emerges. The stars were paid for their participation, although the amount was not disclosed.
"We've recognized the world is changing and it's requiring us to rethink how we engage it," said Steve Fund, global business director at Boston-based Gillette. "Our goal was to reach out with this asset [the Gillette Young Guns] and talk to the market in an engaging way."
Gillette developed the concept in tandem with its lead agency, BBDO. "We were looking for new ways to promote our brands outside regular TV commercials. We thought that Gillette was a brand that might be optimum for a branded content show," said Al Merrin, ecd at BBDO.
Staging a regularly scheduled series, even one that only runs 7 episodes, took almost two years of planning, with both Gillette and Nascar signing off on every aspect of production.
The program was produced by @radical.media in New York and shot over several days in early March at the Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.
"Capturing four hours of programming in that period of time was a mountain in itself," said Andrew Fried, producer "The logistics, the safety concerns—it's a lot of moving pieces."
Added Fried, "There is nothing about this show that differentiates it from normal [unscripted] prime-time viewing. At no point in the shooting of the show did we say action or cut."
The celebrities wear Gillette Fusion Power racing suits and company signage decorates the track. In addition, Gillette signed up other sponsors to help defray the costs. Seven brands appear—in some cases as sponsors of individual cars.
The drivers, due to contractual obligations, drive cars and wear uniforms touting their personal sponsors.
"The sponsors helped us maximize our investment, allowed us to activate the show in a retail environment and also gave us the opportunity to put some marketing muscle into it," said Merrin.
ABC has been running in-house promos for the show, but BBDO did not craft any commercials. Instead, the agency turned to the participants to generate viewer interest.
"For example, John Cena, one of the celebrities, is promoting it heavily on the World Wrestling Entertainment television shows," said Merrin.
There is also a Web site with behind-the-scenes footage and biographies of the drivers and celebrities that is used as a tag in Gillette Power Fusion spots.
"The reason it works so well is that the branding is part of the theater of the show," said Fund.