The American Express/West Wing Home Run
1) I am a West Wing fanatic.
2) I am impatient and do not sit through TV commercial breaks. I flip the channel, stand up, look away, play the harmonica - anything.
3) I am not financially savvy and block out most credit card, retirement planning and college savings program advertisements.
Last night, my parents came over to watch the West Wing's special live episode featuring a debate between presidential candidates Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). Great episode for a number of reasons, but what struck me most was the deftly-executed advertising by American Express.
Amex did the ad-industry equivalent of pulling a kitten from a tree by bringing us (yes - you and me!) the episode with "limited interruption." I was immediately thankful to Amex. Amex spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres introduced the episode, then popped in during and after to pitch the new Amex One card. Executed in traditional fashion, this would have seemed like a transparent, annoying extended advertisement. Amex, however, capitalized on DeGeneres' humor and scatterbrained shtick to make her role conversational, not intrusive.
She came across not as an on-message puppet, but as someone who might do anything, at any moment (live TV). Her take on spending and saving (the basis behind the One card) and her informality in mentioning the product that she pitched was refreshing. Her script even cut her explanation of the card short to start the live episode.
Sure, Amex shelled out a huge sum to dominate the live episode...the terms of the buy might also have had plenty to do with a lengthy debate between the candidates on spending and saving. But, this was perfect-fit advertising. Amex won because of three things: 1) Right forum 2) Understanding how to communicate with the right audience 3) Strong Web presence to finish the job.
Amex integrated the campaign with the episode's content and provided viewers with someone to relate to (DeGeneres), something to relate to (spending vs. saving) and somewhere to go (Web).
In my focus group of three, though, Amex's return was worth its investment. Ma and Pa Woolard and I discussed the One card frequently and tried to figure out how it works. We then followed DeGeneres' prompts and logged on to NBC.com to vote for the debate's winner. We were able to vote for our winner, then click one of the many ads to find out more about the One card.
When my dad got to work this morning, he went to NBC.com and voted, then e-mailed me with the results so far: Santos winning 70%-30%.
Kudos to Amex on a job well done.