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Brandcameo: Tron: Legacy is Just a Big Viral Ad: But For Ducati, Or Apple?

Posted by Abe Sauer on December 20, 2010 11:47 AM

No surprise that Tron: Legacy won the weekend, taking in $43.6 million in the U.S. The sequel that took nearly three decades to make is being heralded as a lot of things, although "good movie" doesn't seem to be one of them.

But Tron: Legacy is being recognized for one accomplishment. As one Twitter user summed it up: "Tron, the story of a Ducati rider struggling to find a CD by Daft Punk."

Yet, as much as Tron: Legacy showed off its Ducati, the film may be an even more effective ad for the iPad.

We knew that a Ducati bike would play a prominent role in the Tron sequel. But we had no idea how prominent. The repeated Ducati product placement got so heavy that we honestly had to question if we had been deceived when a Ducati rep told us the brand paid nothing to appear in the film. Indeed, Tron: Legacy plays out essentially like a 125-minute Ducati viral ad. Below, just a few reactions on Twitter from Tron audiences.

One Tron fan even broke out the Photoshop to demonstrate just about the only way Ducati's role could have been bigger (at top).
 
What makes it all the more of a shame (giant mistake?) for Ducati is that the model featured in the film, the Sport 1000, was discontinued this year. Ducati fans eager to get their Tron on will need to search the used markets — or hit eBay, where there is one nearly identical model to the one in the film available until Wednesday.

As a brand-building exercise, this remains a tremendous coup for Ducati, capping off a year in which the bikemaker has shined in huge roles in blockbuster films like Wall Street 2, The Expendables and Knight and Day



A final note on Ducati's Tron role is the filmmaker's veiled swipe at a Ducati rival. In an early scene where Ducati daredevil Sam Flynn weaves in and out of traffic, a police motorcycle spots and pursues him — but the hapless cop is outwitted as he cruises around on a BMW.

The rest of the placements in Tron: Legacy pale by comparison. The Coors can has a far larger role than we predicted a few weeks ago, and we would need to know what Nokia laid out for its placement to know if it was worth it.

But looking at Tron: Legacy from a more conceptual angle, there is an argument to be made (by us, anyway) that Tron: Legacy was a giant viral marketing campaign for the iPad. And we don't mean the Tron iPad iAd campaign for the film; we mean, the film as an iAd for the iPad.

In an early scene set in a boardroom, one of the main characters pulls out what appears to be an iPad. He taps the screen a few times and holds it up, one of the many instances in the film where iPad-like tablet keyboards and touchscreens are used. Indeed, there is not one keyboard in Tron: Legacy.

From a design standpoint, the world of Tron could not more resemble the iPad if Apple designers themselves had been consulted (which, to our knowledge, they were not). All laser edges and sleek surfaces, it's as if the Tron world also boasts fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating. This wouldn't be the first time Apple has inspired other-worldly design. Many called the redesigned bridge of the Enterprise in the Star Trek reboot a giant "Apple store."

(Dorm room philosophers could take this comparison even further, looking at the stranglehold of programming design perfection vs. freedom for users plot of Tron: Legacy as a stand-in for the approach of Apple to consumers.)

So, where the original Tron envisioned a computing world of Apple IIIs and inspired sci-fi writer William Gibson to coin the term cyberspace, the new Tron envisions a near future when iPad interfaces, and iPads themselves, are what we all use to compute, between zipping from place to place on our Ducatis.

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