Pennzoil Unveils Doc About Hot Rodders to Launch a New Motor Oil

'Breaking Barriers' will run on Nat Geo Channel

Though there will be ads around the launch of Pennzoil's new Platinum line of motor oil, the centerpiece of the product push is an hour-long documentary about hot rodders who chase land speed records.

Produced by MediaCom and the Bandito Brothers, Breaking Barriers will premiere in three weeks on National Geographic Channel. With a voiceover and on-camera appearances from country music star Tim McGraw, the doc looks back at the history of hot rodding with street legal cars and culminates in a team from Hennessey Performance setting the current speed record of 270.49 miles per hour.

The driver behind the record-setting run wears a uniform festooned with Pennzoil's logo, but that's the extent of the brand's presence in the content itself. The main message behind the doc, though—overcoming obstacles to stand out in a hyper-competitive field—dovetails nicely with the product itself (a different kind of synthetic oil that's made from natural gas). As if to underscore that difference, upcoming ads for the oil, from lead creative shop JWT in Atlanta, will use the tagline, "Motor Oil Reimagined."

To further illustrate the brand connection, Breaking Barriers will air with four 60-second interstituals that will appear just before or after commercial breaks. Each segment features the new oil with the last one showing it being poured into the record-breaking car.

To Chris Hayek, global brand director for Pennzoil, the program simply represents something bold for the brand. It's also unprecedented: Pennzoil, which is owned by Shell, hasn't ventured into content creation before. Hayek and leaders of MediaCom gave Adweek a first look at the doc during a 90-minute meeting at MediaCom's headquarters in midtown New York.

MediaCom chose the Bandito Brothers to produce and direct the doc because the production company was founded by a motorcycle racer and a stuntman, explained Geoffrey Campbell, senior director of content at MediaCom. Also, Bandito Brothers previously helped produce branded content for another MediaCom client in the automotive space: Audi. The feature film Need for Speed is on Bandito's reel as well.

McGraw was a natural fit for Breaking Barriers because he's a car enthusiast and Pennzoil is a sponsor of his music tours, said Morgan Buksbaum, MediaCom's vp of entertainment and partnerships. His broad appeal also helps, as the brand aims to tell stories that reach not just gear heads but anyone interested in record-setting feats.

That also explains why Pennzoil turned to National Geographic, rather than, say, Fox Sports 1 (formerly known as Speed Channel). After its premiere on May 7, the doc will run twice more in the U.S. and in Canada, according to MediaCom managing partner Larry Swyer.

Hayek declined to reveal the cost of production but its scope was ambitious. The filmmakers interviewed legendary drivers, auto historians and racing entrepreneurs like Hennessey and Roger Penske in Los Angeles, London, Amsterdam and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where Hennessey's Venom GT broke the previous speed record of 265.3 mph. Here's a sneak preview via two promos for the doc: