The X Factor of The X Factor

You may have seen commercials or perhaps a national headline about the latest rendition of the popular U.K. talent competition, The X Factor. Come fall, the next big U.K.-turned-U.S.-smash-hit-from-a-guy-named-Simon will air on FOX, and the sights of ambitious singers are set as high as the anticipated ratings.

But what’s the real driving force behind the success of yet another behemoth talent competition? Why do these reality programs cross the pond and break records for number of viewers, number of “votes,” and, until this season’s Celebrity Apprentice, number of product placements in a two-hour airing? When you examine the X Factor of The X Factor, marketers will find a winning combination of buzz, interest and brand power that can create successful campaigns.

The Buzz – On November 29, 2010, nearly one year prior to the broadcast premiere, FOX Broadcasting posted a teaser announcing The X Factor coming to America. The following day, The X Factor blog published its first post featuring the video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 15,000 times and counting. Since then, The X Factor (USA) has built a palpable following with 56,000 Facebook likes, 50,000 Twitter followers and seeing more than 70,000 unique visitors on any given day this spring, according to  With months left before the show debuts, The X Factor will continue generating buzz through one-on-one interviews and Twitter chats with the “love-to-hate-him” Simon Cowell, gossip-worthy updates about the show and its judging panel, and the potential for highly viral videos thanks to recently announced YouTube Auditions. Cowell said it best in an interview quoted by The New York Times in January, “The social community, the Internet, is going to be a vital part of building up the buzz about this show.”

The Intrigue – If you search “talent competitions” in Google, you’ll get 23 million hits. Granted, this encompasses every local talent show, toddler beauty pageant and “Glee”-like contest, but it speaks volumes about human interest.  When you look at the viewership of programs similar to The X Factor – American Idol: 29 million viewers (Season 10 finale); America’s Got Talent: ~13 million viewers (Season 6); The Voice – ~12 million viewers (Season 1 premiere) – it’s clear talent competitions are a huge draw, and viewers have their reasons for tuning in. While many people are intrigued to watch the rise of today’s stars, there’s an equal number that take guilt-free pleasure in other’s humiliation (I know, sad, right?). Just search YouTube for video compilations of the worst auditions and you’ll see they rake in more than a million viewers a piece. And what about the stars of this notorious footage? The X Factor is giving anyone the opportunity for a desired 15 seconds of fame or even acclaimed notoriety (does the name Susan Boyle ring a bell?). What better way to gain attention than to give the people exactly what they want?

The Brands – From Simon Cowell’s trademark personality, mastered during his days as the “mean judge” on American Idol, to Pepsi’s sole season-long sponsorship (a major coup over rival, Coke), The X Factor is already fizzing with head-turning brands that can extend its presence well beyond the TV screen. Take Pepsi’s Music Index, for example, an online portal that provides an ideal platform for potential cross promotion. Chevrolet, the latest to join the ranks as the official automotive sponsor, and a more than likely wireless sponsor will round out strategic ad categories that producers can weave into storylines, thus, avoiding blatant product placements that can have an adverse effect on viewers. The key will be creating points of engagement between the brands and consumers, and producers have plans to do just that. According to Brian Steinberg of Advertising Age, the show and these brands are looking at when “viewers ‘dual screen’ the ‘X Factor’ experience (watching the show on TV while using a laptop or mobile device); when fans download a music track they heard on the show; or when they attend an audition related to the buzzy contest” – just three examples of how the public will be tapped for interaction.

The X Factor has set out to prove that, once again, the combination of social buzz, human interest and brand engagement can create a marketer’s dream. How would you apply this X Factor to your next campaign?


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