Dodge Gets Fast and Furious: How Film Rebuilt a Classic Car Brand


A staggering 33-million-plus likes can be found at The Fast and Furious 6 Facebook page. By comparison, Iron Man 3‘s page has fewer than half of that. Star Trek: Into Darkness? Just 2.7 million. The much anticipated Superman reboot Man of Steel comes in with just 621,000. The Fast and Furious franchise isn’t just a blockbuster, money-generating film series—its a lifestyle franchise. It’s the perfect marriage of big balls, small bikinis, bad guys with good hearts and, most importantly, automobile porn. It is, in no understated terms, America’s id.

Dodge is once again partnering with that id, continuing what might be one of the most successful product placement partnerships in film history. This time Dodge is hoping to rub some Furious id off on its Dart and Challenger models. And it might. But Fast and Furious will always be about the Charger.[more]

For Fast and Furious 6, Dodge has announced “co-branded national, local and multicultural advertising campaigns—events, gaming, social media and merchandising.” This will include national TV campaigns as well as tie-ins such as in-game promotions in the game Car Town which allow users to unlock a 2013 Dodge Charger SRT8. The film will also feature Dodge’s new Charger and Challenger models as well as a classic Daytona. Licensed products will also be part of Dodge’s most expansive Fast and Furious partnership to date. And why not? The movie franchise could be credited as much as anything else with the successful relaunch of the moribund Charger model.

Today, it’s hard to remember that the Charger was literally dead for 20 years after 1987 and that it hasn’t been a car associated with toughness or muscle since the late 1970s. Young Charger fans today should probably count themselves lucky to have missed the 1980s Charger, a compact, front wheel drive hatchback, including the special edition Dodge Shelby Charger, which boasted a whopping 105 horsepower engine. (The latest 2013 Charger comes standard at 300 hp.)

One of the most important details that made the Charger relaunch successful was connecting the model with its muscled heritage. It cannot be overstated how much product placement—and specifically the Fast and Furious series—has helped Dodge accomplish this.

The 2001 original The Fast and the Furious made $144,533,000, the 14th most of any movie that year and more than any other movie—except Monsters Inc.—that wasn’t a sequel or based on an existing, known comic book or video game property. It made more than Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It launched Vin Diesel into superstardom and introduced a new generation to the Charger in the form of Diesel’s classic 1970 model. Since then, it has become the mascot car of the series, even though that almost didn’t happen.

The second and third sequels of the series did not star Vin Diesel nor the Charger. For a time, it seemed the connection was severed until 2009 when the fourth film saw both Diesel and the 1970 Charger come roaring back. A blockbuster film that turned the franchise around, the table was set for Dodge to partner for Fast 5 and create one of the most memorable product placements of all time. Replicas of the Charger from the original film now draw crowds at auto shows as far afield as Switzerland. How many product placements can claim that kind of recognition?

“The interesting thing with the evolution of the series is the nostalgia of analog technology—muscle cars with carburetors vs hybrid/electrics—although the latter is the future of the automotive industry,” Ruben Igielko-Herrlich told brandchannel, co-founder of Propaganda GEM, the entertainment agency that successfully put Robert Iron Man Downey in an Audi and, more recently, Tom Mission Impossible Cruise in a BMW.

The Charger’s connection to the Fast series and Dom’s character may have also helped make it a favorite of entertainment such as in the video game Grand Theft Auto. That game’s main character Niko—a guy not all that unlike Diesel’s Fast and Furious character Dom—is a bad guy forced to fight even worse guys. One GTA fan even made a 13-minute mini-film featuring the game’s Charger.

These unseemly character associations—the model was recently the ride of sexy bad guys in the comedy Identity Thief—has branded the Charger with the very particular rogue, rebellious characteristic that Steve McQueen brought to Ford’s Mustang. It’s a lack of this same Han Solo, Batman “bad good-guy” connection that has made Chevy’s Camaro-Transformers tie-in a bit of a high-profile dead fish.

“This is by far the most an auto brand has received from an auto-centric movie, dwarfing GM’s Chevy Camaro exposure in Transformers,” Eric Smallwood, Senior Vice President of Front Row Marketing Services and Front Row Analytics told brandchannel. Front Row Analytics—which does valuations for product placement and entertainment marketing—noted the Charger brand was onscreen for over 12 minutes of Fast 5 and notched more than 50 occurrences. Front Row’s propriatary valuation formula puts the total to-date value of Charger’s role in Fast 5 at $62,056,646. That’s US box office only, not including DVD or digital distribution. Dodge’s Challenger’s role in Fast 5 was worth another $2,982,189. 

From its new, dynamic partnership with Syfy’s series Defiance, to its recent placements in movies and TV shows ranging from Stand Up Guys to Snitch to NCIS and Burn Notice, it’s hard to believe the savvy moves are made by the same Dodge that just six years ago brought us the Fantastic Four 2 “Hemi Fantasticar.”

And while Dodge entertainment still makes some questionable choices—Total Recall‘s cop car of the future—it’s clear Dodge has a good understanding of where and how to cast itself and how important the details can be. For example, the automaker told writer Jerry Garrett what it went through for Fast 5 were “painstaking efforts” to “take 2010 models and turn them into 2011 models” to be sure that new Charger models on the lot would match the models in the 2011 film at the time of its release many months after filming. Just as filmmakers know, paying attention to the little things pays off.

Exactly how many Charger models Dodge’s product placements and tie-ins move off the lot is impossible to know. Through a Chrysler spokesperson told brandchannel that Tim Kuniskis, the Dodge Brand President and CEO, considers the efforts to be brand building strategies and not so much direct sales drivers. It’s hard to argue with the strategy as Dodge sold 18 percent more Chargers in 2012 than in 2011 (the year of the last Fast film).

Not that Charger’s Fast fame cannot be used to, as they say, “move some metal.” One Dublin, Ohio seller has added a highlight to the dealership’s newsletter, announcing, “Vin Diesel Drives Dodge Charger Daytona in Fast and Furious 6.” It’s by no means a rare strategy. “Dodge Charger SRT and Challenger Triumph Over Fast and Furious 6announced Allen Samuels Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram of West Houston, Texas. “See Vin Diesel Drive the Dodge Charger Daytona in Fast & Furious 6advises Merrillville, Ind.’s Bosak Motor Sales.

Better yet for auto brands that are not Dodge, a rising tide may lift all ships. For example, despite its preponderance of muscle and super cars, Fast and Furious 6 is being used as a platform for Alfa Romeo to launch its new compact sedan model Giulietta. “Fast & Furious has made cars and driving cool—in a mass pop culture medium—something all car manufacturers are concerned with,” mused Igielko-Herrlich.

If Fast 6 is anything like the last film and Dodge’s role measures up, it’s safe to say that the Dodge-Furious partnership will move into a very exclusive club of successful product-film franchise teams that includes the likes of Iron Man and Audi and even James Bond.

Top image via Flickr.


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