Furious 7 Branding: 5 Questions With Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis

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Dodge brand president and CEO Tim Kuniskis

There may be no one happier than Tim Kuniskis about the breakneck box-office opening for Furious 7.

As president and CEO of the Dodge and SRT brands for Fiat Chrysler Automotive, he’s been intimately involved in his company’s partnership with the enduring success of the car-centric movie franchise, whose latest installment is tearing up movie screens to become the fastest-grossing Fast & Furious sequel to date.

In the industry’s biggest-ever April debut, “F7” opened to become the #1 movie in the world. Its debut helped Universal Pictures pass $1 billion in global box-office receipts after it raked in more than $144 million in North America and $240 million overseas.

It’s been a longstanding love affair between Dodge and the F&F juggernaut, dating back back to the first Fast & Furious in 2001, which “starred” a 1970 Dodge Charter R/T.

Since then, Dodge has expanded not only its vehicles’ presences in the movies—it has refined how it wraps its brand around the F&F franchise, as can be seen in its marketing around Furious 7, including its hilarious Dodge Law web series and its involvement in videos for the film’s original soundtrack.

brandchannel talked with Kuniskis (seen at top with his 1971 Challenger on the left) about the Dodge’s starring role in the Furious franchise and how to keep the momentum going.

bc: Tim, take us back to Dodge’s involvement from the first F&F movie, and did you think from the beginning that you had a hit on your hands?

Tim Kuniskis: Dodge vehicles have been a part of the blockbuster Fast & Furious franchise since its inception in 2001. Dominic Toretto [Vin Diesel’s character] drove a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T in the very first movie and our company has provided Dodge and other FCA brand vehicles ever since.

Fast Five [2011] was the first Fast & Furious franchise movie where Dodge expanded our partnership to a 360-degree promotional campaign, adding a co-branded television spot, merchandising, video games and even a Fast Five Dodge Charger R/T NASCAR.

Since Fast Five, Dodge has engaged in full 360-degree partnerships to promote the Fast & Furious franchise movies, including product placement, co-branded television spots, digital and social media campaigns.

We had a strong feeling Furious 7 would be a hit. After all, the Fast & Furious franchise is Universal Pictures’ biggest franchise of all time and is in the Top 20 of most successful movie franchises ever. The first six F&F movies have earned a total of nearly $2.4 billion in worldwide box office sales and $940 million in the US.

bc: Does the evolution of the Dodge brand sync with the rise of the F&F brand?

Kuniskis: The Fast & Furious franchise is the perfect fit for Dodge as the movie franchise is centered around high-performance vehicles, and that is the core of the Dodge brand DNA. The Dodge and Universal/Fast & Furious partnership is the perfect alignment as our audiences are similar. There is a crossover between the Dodge consumer and the Fast & Furious franchise audience.

Both the movies and Dodge muscle cars attract young, male, car enthusiast customers [and] Dodge has performance vehicles for every customer’s need, whether it’s the 300 HP 31 MPG Charger or the 485 HP Scat Pack Charger and Challenger, or the 707 HP Charger and Challenger, or the street legal Viper track car.

Dodge Furious 7 product placement

bc: What kinds of special considerations and/or help have you given to the F&F filmmakers?

Kuniskis: FCA US provided nearly 30 vehicles for the Furious 7 movie production. Three play prominent roles in the movie [including] a Candy Red 2015 Dodge Charger, driven by Toretto (Vin Diesel) in various chase scenes throughout the movie, and a Sublime and Black 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T, driven by Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez).

Over and above the great placement in the movie, Dodge was afforded movie footage for the creation of ads, and the opportunity to participate in the movie premiere. Dodge and Fast & Furious fans alike get to see Dodge vehicles in no-holds-barred situations and extraordinary circumstances.

This year, we took the F7 partnership to a new level by adding a first-ever partnership with Atlantic Records on music videos that support the label’s Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Each video featured many of Dodge’s high-performance vehicles, new footage of the artists and footage from the movie.

bc: What, exactly, has the F&F franchise success done for the Dodge brand?

Kuniskis: Dodge, like many other brands, does product placements from time to time. But it’s not often that we partner on a full 360-degree co-branding launch. To be successful, partnerships have to be a natural fit for the brands. They have to be true to the brands and be a win-win for everyone involved.

The Fast & Furious franchise has been around since 2001 and has become an organic part of the “car culture”—a virtual window for the general market to see into what fuels a performance enthusiast’s passion.

We have a saying about the performance vehicles within Dodge: “If you know … you know.” And fans of the F&F franchise definitely know, making it a perfect fit for Dodge and putting our products front and center on a huge global stage.

This year’s music video partnership extension has brought in another huge audience for Dodge. The four videos released before the movie premiered garnered more than 25 million total views and the See You Again Paul Walker tribute video [by Wiz Khalifa with Charlie Puth] received 25 million views in the first 10 hours. The See You Again song is #1 in more than 20 countries and the Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is #1 in more than 44 countries.

bc: Dodge brand sales have been sliding. Is that due to FCA’s strategy to reposition the brand as a performance marque rather than a mainstream brand, or is there reason for concern right now?

Kuniskis: Overall, year-over-year Dodge brand retail sales are down because we no longer offer the Dodge Avenger product, which had retail sales of more than 50,000 last year. Removing Avenger from totals, the Dodge brand retail sales are actually up in the first quarter of this year versus last year.

And if you look at the type of vehicles that resonate best with fans of the Fast & Furious franchise movies, Dodge is doing exceptionally well. Through the first quarter of 2015, the Dodge Charger is the brand’s number one selling nameplate and we have sold more than 42,000 muscle cars (both Charger and Challenger) in this same period.

—Get more branding strategy insights in our brand leader Q&A series

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