A common mistake made about the Fast and Furious franchise is that its protagonists are Vin “Dominic” Diesel and Paul “Brian” Walker. The real star, from the beginning, was the Dodge Charger. As Dodge president and CEO Timothy Kuniskis stated at the Furious 7 premiere in Los Angeles, “This franchise has been good for Dodge, and Dodge has been good for the franchise.”
It took Dodge itself a while to recognize this. But when it finally did, the automaker flung itself behind the franchise with the full force of its shiny new Hollywood office tasked with the sole purpose of getting Dodge cast in films. And what a lucrative relationship Fast and Furious has become for Dodge.
The impact of product placement is notoriously difficult to quantify. But consider this. In 2010, four years after relaunching the classic model, the Charger was Dodge’s fifth best selling car. In February 2015, the automaker sold over 10,300 Chargers, making the model its second best seller.
But along the way Dodge learned that Hollywood is a retroactive time machine. By rebuilding the legacy of the original classic Dodge Charger, Dodge is gilding the legacy of the updated models it currently offers. For example, unlike Fast 5, Furious 7 only features a new body Charger sedan prominently in a single scene in Abu Dhabi.
But the film is stuffed—almost absurdly so—with classic Charger models. Like a kid discovering the Rolling Stones thanks to a Scorsese movie, what this does is refresh the “American muscle” pedigree of the Charger for a new generation of car buyers. A humorous ad campaign also helps.
As we noted in 2013 before the premiere of Fast and Furious 6, “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.” One car that will not be in a Fast and Furious franchise film anytime soon? The 1985 2.2 liter, 96 horsepower Dodge Charger.
When Dodge had to bring a car to the latest film’s premier at the iconic TCL Chinese Theater Hollywood it didn’t bring the new 2015 model, it brought the 1970s classic. In a marketplace where heritage and pedigree matter, building up the past is a better marketing move than going for the here-and-now. That is to say, the past is a better salesperson. (Just ask Canadian Club.)
Finally, it’s worth noting that like so many product placement deals today, Dodge does not pay for its Fast and Furious roles; instead, the automaker offers support from co-marketing to supplying a fleet of cars to the filmmakers.
It’s notable that Dodge isn’t the only brand that the Fast and Furious franchise has stuck with since the beginning. As a Common Sense Media post from 2003 notes, “Corona beer seems to be an especially obvious product placement.”
Corona, taking a note from Dodge, has taking this to the logical conclusion with the latest film, which devotes a whole scene to recommending the beer—even over its Belgian, craft competitors.