Furious 7 is dominating the box office at home and overseas while The Avengers, Mission Impossible, Jurassic World and 007’s Spectre are yet to come. It’s going to be a big year for the movies—and for the auto brands that love them, with product placement and 360-degree marketing deals an integral part of the action.
From Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford tooling around a golf course in a 1928 Ford to the Marx Brothers piling into a Ford seven years later all the way to Ford’s costarring role in I Am Legend with Will Smith, automakers have long had stars in their eyes and cars.
But in recent years, automakers have been opening their own production offices in Tinsel Town, car product placement and integrated marketing tie-ins have been taken to a whole new level. The power of a powerhouse Hollywood movie franchise—one with sequels and international allure—is more important than ever for automakers.
One reason is a generational shift away from traditional advertising. From time-shifted viewing to on-demand, mobile video, automakers need to become part of the content that consumers, especially millennials, are watching. Part of that is migrating to video games—but the silver screen still matters, as Furious 7‘s massive global success (and halo for partners including Dodge) demonstrates.
“In terms of brand building, you need content and storytelling. It’s become a necessity for all brands, especially auto,” says Ruben Igielko-Herrlich, Founding Partner of Propaganda GEM, the agency that placed Audi in both the Transporter and Iron Man movie franchises.
Igielko-Herrlich says that it’s not only a changing advertising landscape that’s driving the competition to forge stronger partnerships with popular Hollywood properties. Automakers like franchises for the same reason Hollywood producers do. They build awareness and alleviate risk.
This year has already seen Dodge crank up its partnership with the producers of the Fast and Furious film series, landing a plum spot among the Furious 7 product placement partners, while Audi was a featured player in Fifty Shades of Grey.
Upcoming Auto/Movie Product Placements:
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)
Entourage (June 5)
While Vince, E, Turtle and Drama cruised around in a 1965 Lincoln Continental in eight season of the HBO series. In the movie, they’ll be seen in a Cadillac: the 2011 Ciel concept or a 2015 Escalade.
Jurassic World (June 12)
Watch for the Mercedes-Benz badge, along with the GLE Coupé—and the park’s new hybrid dinosaur.
Terminator: Genisys (July 1)
Car, truck and motorcycle chases aplenty include, of course, Harley-Davidson.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31)
BMW is back in the M:I franchise, from the M3 driven by Tom Cruise and the X5 by Jeremy Renner to the S 1000 RR motorcycles driven by the villains.
The Fantastic Four (Aug. 7)
The producers of this reboot are being coy about giving too much away, but given its contemporary setting expect some four-wheeled (and two-wheeled) action.
The Transporter Refueled (Sept. 4)
Audi is certainly getting its money’s worth—there may never have been a closer shot on a logo in cinematic history.
Spectre (Nov. 6)
The next 007 film also features a trio of Jaguar Land Rover vehicles: the Jaguar C-X75, the Range Rover Sport SVR and the Land Rover Defender. (Even the country they’ll be driven in, Mexico, is shelling out big to be in the next Bond film.)
The Quest for Longevity—and China
“The idea of loyalty toward a franchise makes sense and creates legitimacy.” In this sense, the auto brand becomes one of the cast; just as Robert Downey Jr. is expected in Iron Man, so is his Audi R8. “You’re expected there,” Igielko-Herrlich says.
Speaking of Audi and Iron Man, it seems that Marvel us finally understanding this message. As we noted just a few months ago, the Marvel Studio’s automaker partnerships were a confounding mess which, as Igielko-Herrlich puts it, “may be working for Marvel but wasn’t for anyone else.” So it’s no surprise to see the upcoming Avengers sequel launch a huge partnership with Audi.
In addition to the immediate benefits of franchise product placement deals, automakers that play it right—and get a bit lucky—stand to benefit from the long tail. What some call pop culture’s affinity for the “retro,” marketers call “the long tail.”
A good example of this is, once again, James Bond. By maintaining its relationship with Bond, Aston Martin is in a position to amplify its placements. Not only is the new DB10 starring in the upcoming Spectre but last year when Goldfinger celebrated its 50th anniversary, Aston Martin was part of the conversation, too.
Compare that to BMW. The German automaker’s launch of its Z3 roadster in conjunction with Goldeneye is held up as one of the most successful product placements of all time. And yet it has very little long tail benefit. While BMW stuck with Bond for one more later film (The World is Not Enough), it did not push the relationship to something bigger.
With one Mission Impossible already under its belt, BMW is hoping to build a long-lasting relationship alongside Tom “Ethan Hunt” Cruise.
In July’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, BMW is supplying not just the cars for the film but also the high-powered motorcycles, all of which appear to have big roles to play.
And as the film’s exclusive worldwide automotive partner, it will be surprising if BMW doesn’t make its role a major, global event, especially in a place like China. “Years ago we were telling people to think about China,” says Propaganda GEM’s Igielko-Herrlich. Not any more.
China, and lesser emerging auto markets, are another reason Hollywood franchises are more important than ever for carmakers. As Igielko-Herrlich puts it, “The beauty of Hollywood is that it caters to everyone in the world’s taste.”
With that in mind, there is Audi. The German automaker may not have a new Iron Man movie this year but it happily signed on for a prequel of hit The Transporter series.
While the first in the series featured a BMW, Audi—and Propaganda GEM—swooped in, launching its new A8 models in conjunction with the film’s sequels. “That wouldn’t happen today,” says Igielko-Herrlich, “because the landscape has changed.”
For the 2015 entry, Audi’s A8 will return again and it’s expected Audi will remain onboard for the planned Transporter sequels. For Audi, this is an especially unique opportunity as the new trilogy will co-financed by a Chinese company and at least one of the films will take place in China, now the world’s largest auto market.
Similarly born from a video game, 2014’s Need for Speed grossed $22 million more in China ($65 million) than it did in the US. The film property, originally produced with a major partnership with Ford, recently announced plans for a sequel filmed in China with Chinese stars.
The film stars the Ford Mustang—which, not so coincidentally, recently became available for the first time in China.
—Abe Sauer is a longstanding student of product placement and branded entertainment. Follow him on Twitter: @abesauer