Exclusive: Tim McGraw Stars in the Premiere of Vevo's 'Turn Up The Music And Drive'

When Tim McGraw decided to name his latest album (and first for Big Machine) Two Lanes of Freedom, his second-year sponsors Pennzoil couldn’t have been more thrilled. Not only did the title’s car analogy match seamlessly with the motor oil’s new music strategy, launched in 2012, it also opened all sorts of new possibilities for the brand to expand its sponsorship heading into year two and its first headlining tour with McGraw.

One of those new programs is “Turn Up The Music And Drive,” an original series for Vevo that debuts its first episode today. Billboard has the exclusive premiere below, which features McGraw test-driving a Mustang GT-500, Dodge Challenger SRT-8 and Camaro ZL-1 on a Pennzoil racetrack. The series was a natural extension of a partnership that debuted in 2012, through which the singer appeared in a series of TV, print and digital ads for Pennzoil and the brand in turn helped sponsor McGraw’s half of the Brothers of the Sun tour with Kenny Chesney. The Pennzoil program was brokered by CAA Music’s Kevin Gelbard, with music strategy and talent negotiation led by Group M’s Mediacom Entertainment & Sports Partnerships.

“Doing this as long as I’ve been doing it, I’ve had some good brand partners but I try to be selective with the ones I do work with,” McGraw says on the phone from a brief tour break at home in Nashville. “When you meet people and you have a connection with them, you understand where they’re coming from and a similar understanding to find a place in the middle where it helps both instead of being completely one-sided.”

In addition to the series, McGraw helped design his own custom Challenger SRT that has been accompanying him on all dates outside his current Four Wheels of Freedom Tour, whose color scheme was inspired by the Two Lanes album cover and interior features an autograph from the singer hand-stitched into the front seats. Fans and concertgoers can enter for a chance to win the car through July 31 at Pennzoil.com/TimMcGraw, with additional information available through Pennzoil’s Twitter (Twitter.com/Pennzoil) and Facebook pages (Facebook.com/Pennzoil). “My band is sort of pissed they can’t enter that,” McGraw says of the contest. “It sits out front of every show so we can see it, steal the keys and go out and take it out for a ride.”

Pennzoil was eager to find new ways to align itself with McGraw after the first year of its program was a big success (it took home Billboard’s Concert Marketing & Promotion Award at the 2012 Touring Awards). For starters, it helped Pennzoil become the first motor oil brand to establish a significant presence in music. “We were looking for open territory in the media space, because when it comes to sports and NASCAR all the motor oils are on top of each other,” says Aimee Cronfel, North American marketing manager for Pennzoil. “One of our objectives was to tie more emotionally with consumers, and that’s really hard to do with a motor oil. You don’t get to see and taste it but you do experience the love of driving, which is what took us down the path of music.”

The McGraw campaign saw Pennzoil lift brand preference by 33% and likelihood to buy by 58% in a series of proprietary studies. Pennzoil also launched its first Facebook page on the back of the McGraw relationship and quickly assembled a fan base of over 87,000 worldwide -- with an additional 20,000 of those joining in the past month since the partnership was renewed.

The interior of Tim McGraw's Pennzoil-designed car, which he's taking out on his Two Lanes of Freedom Tour.

“We actually found we were able to generate [product] sales beyond our typical promo levels when we promoted Tim-related merchandise or tickets -- that was another big success for us,” says Bree Sandlin, global brand manager for Pennzoil. “Any creative we had online featuring Tim had a click-through-rate two times higher than our normal consumer interaction levels. Those are the kind of metrics you want to see increasingly when you look at how consumers are interacting with your brand.”

McGraw has a long personal passion for cars that dates back to his childhood. “My first memory from driving is certainly sitting in my stepdad’s lap, being 13 years old driving all over my hometown in Louisiana,” he says. He’s instilled that passion into his three daughters, the oldest of which just turned 16 and got her first car (“We got her a tank -- something big with plenty of airbags that she can be safe in”) and the youngest of which, his 11-year-old, even takes a few test rides with her father. “I’ve had her driving for awhile in the neighborhood and on the farm -- I feel comfortable they’ve been learning for awhile,” he says.

“Turn Up The Music And Drive” is the latest installment of Vevo’s aggressive original programming strategy, which has logged more than 1,150 episodes across dozens of series, totaling over 500 million combined views. Future episodes of the show will feature other artists in addition to McGraw as Pennzoil looks to expand its association with music. “We’re looking to expand to other genres with artists who love cars,” says Morgan Buskbaum, vice president of Mediacom Sports & Entertainment. “Every media property in the U.S. is taken by a major auto brand -- from the Grammys to ‘American Idol’ -- so we wanted to create something from the ground up.”

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