USA, BMW Tune Up Covert Affairs Pact

USA Network’s in-house creative agency, Character Brandworks, has revved up an exclusive sponsorship opportunity for BMW of North America, creating a series of branded vignettes that will run during upcoming episodes of the new original series, Covert Affairs.
Per terms of the deal with the automaker, USA has developed three vignettes designed to communicate the joy drivers feel when they are behind the wheel of a BMW. The first so-called “Character Story” :60 will bow on Tuesday, July 13, between the first and second acts of the 90-minute Covert Affairs premiere.
Anchoring the first vignette is BMW enthusiast George Gjokaj, the owner and founder of the Proformance Industries auto customization shop in New Rochelle, NY.  “I’ve owned every generation of BMW since 1990,” Gjokaj says in the clip. Eyeballing the contours of a black BMW 535i, Gjokaj notes that the engineers “really did a great job of designing this new 5 series. It’s got a beautiful body line that has some real dimension to it.”
As Gjokaj pilots his sedan around Westchester County, he also expounds on the visceral experience he feels when he drives the car. “I am a performance junky; this car performs like no other,” he says. “It really makes driving a joyful experience.”
The spot concludes with a shot of Gjokaj perched next to a gunmetal grey 535i. “I’m a character, and this is my story,” he says, drawing a dotted line between the automobile, himself and USA’s “Characters Welcome” tag.
 
Two other vignettes will appear in subsequent episodes of Covert Affairs. A 30-second spot featuring Gjokaj and his wife, Natalie, will run in the July 27 episode, while another :30 spotlighting artist Michael Pezzulo will debut in the August 3 installment. The first :30 will repeat during episode five (August 10), while the Pezzulo spot encores the following week.
As the official automotive partner of Covert Affairs, the new BMW 535i also will be woven into the narrative of the series via product placement and organic story integration. The character Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey) will drive the sedan throughout his season-one story arc.
BMW also has been the beneficiary of co-branded promos heralding the series launch.
USA has enjoyed such a string of hits that BMW signed on for the integration/vignette package before the pilot had begun shooting. “Three or four years ago, a lot of advertisers would have wanted to wait until the second season before diving into this kind of sponsorship,” says Chris McCumber, USA’s executive vp, marketing, digital and brand strategy. “Nowadays, our clients are willing to jump right in with both feet.”
That’s a function of USA’s ratings performance as well as the work it’s been doing with the recently formed Character Brandworks unit. USA closed out the second quarter of 2010 tops among all cable nets, averaging 3.21 million prime time viewers, of which 1.33 million were adults 25-54 and 1.2 million were members of the 18-49 set. Much of this success has to do with the strength of its original series. Among total viewers and the core demos, USA’s Thursday night lineup of Burn Notice and Royal Pains racks up the highest ratings on cable for original scripted fare.
 

The originals are also drawing a more upscale audience, which in turn makes BMW a particularly apt fit for USA. Per Nielsen, 32 percent of the adults 18-49 who tuned in for the network’s homegrown series in Q2 boasted a household income of $100,000 or more, up 33 percent from Q2 2008. Meanwhile, 34 percent of the 25-54 brought home $100,000 or more, an improvement of 36 percent versus two years ago.
 
USA first began pitching media buyers on its Character Brandworks initiative this spring. Over a series of intimate dinners with agency heavies, McCumber introduced the concept as an extension of the ongoing “Characters Welcome” brand campaign. As McCumber explained it back in April, USA’s been so adept at creating associative links between its on-air characters and the consumers who make up its audience that it can just as easily devise similar connections between sponsors and characters.