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Yahoo, Ford Partner on Reality Series to Promote Green Car

Upcoming weekly series 'Plugged In' will showcase Focus Electric
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Ford and Yahoo want to show Americans that electric cars are reliable, easy to use and fun to drive—so they’re sending a bunch of reality show contestants on a scavenger hunt across the country, driving an electric car.

Starting in May, Yahoo will roll out the 10-episode branded entertainment series Plugged In, produced in conjunction with Ford and Magical Elves, the firm behind reality staples like Top Chef and Project Greenlight. Plugged In, a blend of The Amazing Race and various travelogue series from the likes of Travel Channel or The Food Network, will feature two-person teams driving around the new Ford Focus Electric while completing a series of challenges in 10 U.S. cities.

In each city, the teams will be guided by a yet-to-be-named celebrity, who will lead contestants to his or her favorite local haunts—which will prove integral to some of their tasks. The cities scheduled to be featured include Seattle; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Boston; New York; Austin, Texas; and several other hybrid-car-friendly locales.

Yahoo plans to post a new episode of Plugged In every week on its fledgling video hub Yahoo Screen as well as within relevant content sections on the site, such as Yahoo Autos, Yahoo Travel and even the celebrity gossip site OMG. The goal is to reach a wide, large demographic, said Yahoo video head Erin McPherson, given that the concept for the show was driven in part by Yahoo users' demonstrated interest in travel, cars and celebrities.

Yahoo is emerging as a huge launching pad for video series. The company boasts of airing 21 of the top 25 video series online, per comScore. Yahoo recently renewed a slate of series, and more are in the works, said McPherson.

While the hope is that viewers will become vested in favorite teams as they compete to win the competition, just like any other reality show, Plugged In comes with a twist. “The car is going to be a character,” said McPherson. “It’s not going to be an advertorial or an infomercial, but the car is going to be featured in a very organic way that is not over the top.”

For example, contestants will be shown using the car's navigation technology to find various venues, or making hands-free calls to connect with friends and family. Ideally, they’ll get to see how an all-electric car actually works, dispelling some common fears. According to John Felice, gm of Ford and Lincoln sales, research shows that to be the biggest deterrent in getting consumers to consider electric cars. “We want consumers to become educated, and this show helps us address that comfort level,” said Felice. “And we want to do that in a nonpreachy way…the show’s got to be entertaining. If not, the online social community is brutal.”

Social media will be a big part of attracting viewers to Plugged In, said McPherson. Episodes will be shareable via Facebook and Twitter. Plus, as the series progresses, viewers will be urged to post photos of their hometowns to special Flickr pages.

Despite the original production, and all those bells and whistles, Felice said that Plugged In will be far more efficient than the average car launch, which can cost $80 million to $100 million in media.