Ford Vehicles Star In Feature Films
A little more than a month after its debut, the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," has already become the second highest-grossing film of all time – and an all-star opportunity for Ford Motor Company.
"The Joker's henchmen drive black Ford Expeditions in the opening scene of the movie – which takes place in a dark parking garage – and if you think about the millions of people who will see ‘The Dark Knight,' the level of exposure for the Ford brand is incredible," said Brian Daly, senior vice president, JWT, Team Detroit, who is a member of Ford Global Brand Entertainment (FGBE), the Ford office in Beverly Hills that works to "cast" Ford-branded vehicles in movies, television and other entertainment media.
Think of what the 1982 film, "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," did for Reese's pieces, says Michael Bernacchi, professor of Marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy.
"When ‘E.T.' premiered and that little creature started gobbling up candy, Reese's Pieces got a lot of fanfare and sales went way up," he said. "That may have begun the modern day and age of product placement."
While no one is drawing comparisons between the integration of Ford Expeditions in "The Dark Knight" and the Reese's Pieces in "E.T.," the idea behind the marketing strategy remains the same.
"The reason why we do this is to benefit from what I call the ‘halo effect' of entertainment," said Daly. "We're constantly looking for ways to present our vehicles in a way that's going to enhance the image of the brand through its association with a cool media vehicle."
For Ford's Global Brand Entertainment team, however, successful product placement is not just about getting as many vehicles as possible into movies and television shows.
"You have to respect the brand and the messages it's trying to convey," said Al Uzielli, senior advisor to FGBE. "We will turn down big potential opportunities in movies and television if we feel that it is not the right fit for our vehicles because our main objective is to protect the brand."
What constitutes "the right fit?"
Daly says it's a matter of marrying the right brand with the right role.
"In the case of ‘The Dark Knight,' the opening scene is kind of menacing, and producers were looking for a vehicle that would fit in well with that," he said. "It wouldn't have made sense for the Joker's thugs to be driving F-150 pickup trucks in the city, for example, and the look of the Ford Edge was a little too refined. A black Expedition looks pretty tough."
Producers also were interested in a luxury vehicle for a small cameo appearance.
"We knew that the release of ‘The Dark Knight' was going to coincide with the launch of the new 2009 Lincoln MKS, so we gave them a sneak preview of the vehicle, and they liked it," said Daly, adding that he had to give producers a pre-production version of the MKS because at the time of filming, the vehicle had not yet gone into full production.
FGBE also worked with the film producers on another summer movie, "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," to find the right vehicle for the lead character of Dana Scully.
"Scully works as a doctor in a hospital that's not necessarily where the rich go. She's a real genuine physician who's looking after her patients and trying to find solutions for them where there seem to be none," he said. "She is cutting-edge but also very real, which is why we felt that the Ford Taurus made sense as a vehicle for her."
Ford Expeditions were chosen for the FBI agents.
"The filmmakers wanted to be true to reality," said Daly. "The government and the FBI do run Expeditions in their fleets, and the producers liked the strength that the vehicles convey."
In addition to being able to keenly identify which cars are best suited for which characters, Uzielli says Ford's success with product placement is largely dependent on developing strong relationships with Hollywood's top filmmakers.
"What we try to do is become a partner with the creative people we work with," he said. "They respect what we're trying to do, which is to protect and promote the Ford brand, and in turn, we are attentive to their needs."
Sometimes that means going the extra mile to help the production staff solve transportation issues and reduce costs.
For example, FGBE provided "The X-Files" movie stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson with Escape Hybrids to use back and forth to the set in Vancouver, Canada.
"Fox has a green initiative going, and they were trying to keep their sets as green as possible," he said. "So we offered them the Escape Hybrids to drive behind the scenes."
Because there was a lot of gunfire in the garage scene in "The Dark Knight," FGBE provided producers with extra quarter panels and doors so that they could "shoot up" the car and then "re-shoot" the scene.
Ford's Global Brand Entertainment team has established itself as a leader in the arena of product placement.
For the third straight year, Ford topped all other brands -- and not just automotive – to win brandchannel.com's 2008 "brandcameo Award for Overall Product Placement," appearing in 30 of the 52 number one films at the U.S. box office from Jan. 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008. Ford also won the "Scene Stealer Award," given to the brand that took the spotlight from its human co-stars, for the placement of the Ford Mustang in the 2007 hit "I am Legend."
"When you see how Will Smith looked ripping through New York City in that Mustang, that was really hot, and it made him look really cool," said Daly. "And being associated with Will Smith made Ford look really cool."