Car companies are finding that auto enthusiast shows on cable TV are a good place for advertising and product placement.
MTV's "Pimp My Ride" is an example. The program, which turns heaps into head-turners, features rapper Xzibit and the creations of West Coast Customs in Los Angeles.
Enthusiast shows about celebrity cars and vehicle tuning are among the top-rated programs on Spike TV and The Learning Channel. Series devoted to car and truck customizing supplement auto racing coverage on the Speed Channel.
Auto marketers and show producers say the cost of advertising and placing vehicles on the programs varies, according to several factors. Among them: how far in advance the spots are bought and how much ad time a car company buys on a show and on its broadcasting network.
John Rinek, Nissan North America Inc.'s director of media and agency management, says Nissan is spending a larger share of its cable TV ad budget on enthusiast shows. He would not offer specific figures.
The shows enable the automaker to reach a targeted - and coveted - audience, Rinek says.
"It's a matter of appealing to that person who is really into cars and trucks," he says. "Their interest goes beyond transportation. We want to appeal to that interest. That's where the audience has moved."
Enthusiast programs also give automakers an opportunity to integrate their vehicles into the shows' content, Rinek says.
"We are looking into (getting) more and more products into shows," he says. "You can see us being a bigger player in this area in the future."
Will Castro's customizing creations are the stars of "Unique Whips" on Speed Channel.
Ford Motor Co. spokesman Miles Johnson says the cable enthusiast shows "have tapped into a whole new audience."
"Traditionally, (enthusiast) programs have been real technical," Johnson says. "These shows have added drama and emotion."
Ford looks to the shows for product placement opportunities, Johnson says. The premiere episode of "Rides" last year on The Learning Channel featured the Ford Shelby Cobra concept roadster.
"The level of integration is much higher on these cable programs," Johnson says. "It's much more than what you do on a show like 'The O.C.,' where a (character) is driving the Mustang."
Johnson says Ford Division is exploring placement of its new Fusion mid-sized sedan and its trucks on cable enthusiast shows.
Such opportunities, he says, are "aimed at the heart of these TV shows."
Rick Crosson, marketing vice president of Subaru of America Inc., says ads on enthusiast shows "are effective in breaking through the mass-media clutter."
"We match our media buying with the consumption habits of our target customers," Crosson says.
"Subaru has always taken a focused approach" to marketing, with an emphasis on niche strategies, he adds.
"Unique Whips," which debuted in February on the Speed Channel, reflects the enthusiast shows' emphasis on celebrities' vehicles. The hour-long show is set at Unique Autosports, a customizing shop on Long Island, N.Y., owned by Will Castro.
The show's April 27 episode displayed the luxury cars of rappers Fat Joe and Olivia of G-Unit. Vehicles advertised on the show include the Pontiac G6, Acura TSX, Nissan Xterra and Subaru Legacy.
Speed Channel President Jim Liberatore says "the entertainment component" of "Unique Whips" appeals to auto advertisers and viewers.
"It's the relationship in the shop and with the celebrities that makes the show," Liberatore says.
Spike TV, which appeals to young male viewers, broadcasts a block of enthusiast programs that includes "Ride With Funkmaster Flex," "Horsepower TV," "Trucks!" and "Stock Car Nation."
Matthew Gould, executive producer of The Learning Channel's "Rides" and "Overhaulin'," says the current array of enthusiast shows is successful because it appeals to a wider audience than gearheads.
"It's accessible to everyone who watches television," Gould says. "Husbands can sit down and watch it with their wives.