We have MOVED. Find us at our new, nicer home at motorindustry.org
Thursday, April 10, 2008
In the latest of the many series of comics-to-movies adaptation, Ironman The Movie is set to hit the cinemas on 2nd May 2008. But what is more interesting to me is that Audi will once again be doing product placements on a blockbuster movie (the first being i-Robot where Audi showcased its RSQ concept car). Go to Audi Ironman's microsite (IE only).
Product placements in movies by car companies are nothing new. Aston Martin have been long associated with James Bond movies since the 60s and 70s, with their DB5 and DBS prominently featured in Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. More recent product placements have been Cadillac in The Matrix, Mini in Italian Job, Audi in i-Robot and of course GM in Transformers.
Cadillac CTS in the Matrix.
Some have been effective, some looked like a complete waste of funds. In order for a high budget product placement to be effective, a globally coordinated marketing effort is crucial. This is where we see many car companies spent millions to negotiate for contracts and exposure time for their vehicles, but only to drop the ball in the final few "post-film / post-screening" areas.
Take Volkswagen's product placement of the Touareg SUV in The Bourne Ultimatum. The chase scenes were good, but I can't see a clear objective of its marketing effort.
Is it a brand building exercise or is it to promote the athletic sophisticated-urban image of the Touareg SUV? Because if it’s a brand building exercise I am not too sure how movies like Bourne Ultimatum – a movie about a man who loses his identity is complementing VW / Touareg’s image?
Does this mean VW or the Touareg has identity issues?
The Touareg is also on some sort of a mission to rediscover its lost identity?
Because it sure looks like so; an SUV developed in cooperation with Porsche, shares the same key mechanicals with the Porsche Cayenne and is sold at a price range way beyond what many would perceive a VW badged car is worth. But it can’t be purely a sales promotion effort either. Because there isn’t any coordination (not that I am aware of) with the sales outlets to tie-in with the principal company VW AG’s marketing efforts. At the least I would expect some sort of a showroom activity to tie-in with the screening of the movie, just to increase the showroom traffic. So you have a case where millions are spent to place a product as a key character in the movie, but nobody seems to ask how can the company translate this into real sales?
The timing when the movie Italian Job went on screens was within a year of BMW, the owner of Mini brand, first attempt to penetrate the USA market, BMW’s most important market, with a premium hatchback. So with the movie being released about a year after its brand launch, Italian Job was a perfect tool to maintain the promotional momentum and public interest to BMW’s branding efforts, just as when the public is starting to lose interest to lose in the Mini's branding campaign.
Now Americans, being a nation of plus-sized everything have this unexplainable aversion / phobia to anything small on wheels. Hatchbacks, however premium brand they are, have never sold well in general. The screening of Italian Job, featuring the new Mini in downtown urban Los Angeles, driven by Charlize Theron, showcasing the small Mini’s nimble handling and their amusing ability to outrun villains by exploiting the smallest openings is the perfect image that BMW wants to portray for its Mini Cooper – nimble, powerful, athletic, urban, sexy, cool. Needless to say, sales took off within the first year of its brand re-introduction in the United States.
BMW is no newbie to product placements. It's E38 7-series and Z8 has seen much action in the previous installations of James Bond.
GM too used the Transformers movie to showcase its cars. Hummers, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet Camaro are all the main stars of the movie, which is targeted at those aged 30-40 something, the kids who grew up watching Transfomer cartoons in the 80s. One of the key character in the movie was Bumblebee, which transforms into a Chevrolet Camaro. The Camaro, targeted at the same age group of Transformer movie goers, will be one of the key products GM will be relying on to rescue itself from the financial mess that its in right now, after having its market share almost taken over by Toyota and Honda. If you notice carefully, in the early scenes Bumblebee was dueling with an evil Decepticon in the form of a police car Ford Mustang, the Camaro’s long-time arch-rival since the days of pony-wars in the 50s. So…good guys drive Camaros, bad guys drive Mustangs.
Lexus and Audi’s product placement in Minority Report and i-Robot have been purely a brand building exercise, as the vehicles used were not production models but concept cars. Lexus has all along being portrayed and perceived as brand that makes almost-perfectly built cars with its tagline “The Pursuit of Perfection.” But they have always been perceived as slightly bland, void of character, lacking in individuality and innovation against their German competitors of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Thus they needed to tie-themselves in with a futuristic sci-fi movie. A futuristic concept car was also required. If you look carefully, Lexus billboards and ads can be seen around various scenes of the movies – just to portray that Lexus is a brand that will still be around in 2054, the year Minority Report was set in.
Consider the timeline; Minority Report was released in 2002. The Lexus RX400h, the world’s first petrol-electric hybrid SUV was launched in 2004. Lexus LS 460 was launch in 2007 with another world’s first 8-speed automatic transmission, Ottoman massager rear seats and I am not kidding you, the car parallel parks itself! And in 2008, Lexus launched the world’s first hybrid luxury sedan, the LS 600h and LS 600h L. So you see, there was clear plan and objective for Lexus’ product placement.
Lexus LS Park Assist commercial.
Audi’s tagline is “Vorsprung durch Technik,” which is loosely translated from German as “Advancement through technology.” This was the company that showed the world the advantages of AWD technology through its world-rally conquering Quattro in the 80s. And today, Audi is leading the world in clean diesel technology and its DSG transmission. Despite its technological know-how, Audi is still being perceived as a second-grade luxury brand compared to its German brethrens of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Thus, a movie like i-Robot starring Will Smith would be a perfect platform for Audi to raise its brand profile. Once again, the i-Robot was premier at a time when Audi was going through a period of reinventing itself. It nicked Walter Maria da Silva, one of the most talented designers from Alfa Romeo and in the coming years Audi began participating actively in the Le Mans 24hrs race (and winning them consecutively) to showcase its clean-diesel technology. It’s new generation of models including the revived handsome-looking A4 and A6 series propelled Audi to be the fastest growing luxury brand today.
And of course, by 2007, Audi launched its much-anticipated, Porsche 911 challenging, Audi R8. And by 2008, Audi will complete the circle by picking up where the Audi RSQ left off in i-Robot with the R8 in Ironman. A hero for the everyday people, enterprising, intelligent, high-tech, strong, athletic, Ironman ticked all the right boxes to propagate
the R8's image.
In short, in order to maximize the benefit of high-budget product placement, a clear coordination between new technology introduction, future model introduction planning and having a clear direction for the brand is crucial. Else, movie-goers will only remember the movie and little else about the car.
Posted by AutoIndustrie at 9:43 AM