This year, those meetings at GM and Chrysler might take place when hoops heaven takes place in two weeks. But there's likely to be no joy in Mo-Ville during them. Just more news that budgets are being slashed.
Word came via The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the Obama administration's ad hoc auto saviors want to keep GM and Chrysler viable, providing that drastic cost-cutting is agreed to by the various stakeholders.
Will the Big Three ever be able to begin advertising again at historic levels? No time soon.
Super Bowl ads have been cut, Tiger Woods is out at Buick. And, of course, dollars for brand integrations and product placement are also increasingly going to be available at a slim-to-none clip -- save Ford and "American Idol."
Speaking of the NCAA tournament, the fact that somehow Ford hasn't had to ask for any government bailout money may be more of an upset than a 15th seed beating a two. How has it pulled that off?
Probably also surprised, executives at Fox have got to be heartened -- more in the emotional realm than financial. If Ford were to drop its elite "Idol" sponsorship, Fox wouldn't have any trouble replacing the revenue -- the network might even get more if it put it out to bid, likely with foreign automakers propelling the auction.
But by Ford avoiding bailout money, Fox doesn't have to worry about a couple of Congressmen asking why the automaker is spending taxpayer dollars on a singing competition. Maybe the Representatives would even subpoena spending records and find out how much Ford actually pays for the "Idol" sponsorship, line item by line item.
Financial marketer Citi - a recipient of billions of dollars in federal handouts -- is feeling some of the backlash Ford is avoiding right now. Two Congressmen want Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to require the bank to yank its name off the marquee at the New York Mets' new stadium, which would allow the government to recoup the $400 million Citi spent for the privilege.
So, as Ford stays in the game, GM and Chrysler -- which only eight months ago were placing their cars on reality shows and rolling them into comedies -- have had to dial brand integration forays back.
And it appears that foreign competitors are only too eager to drive in. Anyone watching a recent episode of Fox procedural crime drama "Bones" on Hulu would have gotten that message.
Not one -- but two -- brands were integrated into the show itself (obviously, that was the same for the linear broadcast). But the online stream also brought mid-roll spots for Infiniti, Honda and Nissan -- and accompanying banners on the screen as the show unspooled.
During the episode, the integrations by and large were nothing extraordinary (an Audi R8's bootleg turn being an exception). But what was remarkable was that Toyota and Audi were willing to share the show (maybe that is a slight example of some budget-cutting).
Toyota was up first during the hour, followed by Audi -- the automaker's appearances came as investigators tried to solve a murder and found themselves spending time at car dealerships (two of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX).
The Toyota appearance was a promo for the Sequoia SUV. As the investigators drove it up to a dealership, the slick vehicle was the subject of several close-ups. Then, a saleswoman looked out the window and offered up: "That Sequoia's a honey." Then she praised it for being "roomy enough, you could have a Super Bowl party" in the back. And followed that up by mentioning it has "great gas mileage."
The Audi R8, a $110,000-plus sports car, had a more memorable role as one of the investigators used it as a method of interrogation. Seeking information, he pretended he wanted to take a test drive -- then while doing so, scared the daylights out of the car salesmen in the passenger seat via a bootleg turn, jarring speeds and sudden stops. The frightened man cracked and gave up the goods.
All the while, the car could be seen alluringly in action -- its impressive vroom and zoom as a soundtrack.
It will be interesting to watch how much foreign automakers pick up speed as they seek opportunities to make noise with brand integrations while their domestic counterparts are forced to be largely quiet.
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