Audi drives hard for film product placements

By Robert Marich
   Nov. 28, 2008 – A Business Week article says Audi automobiles are big scene stealers in Hollywood movies. The German car maker is aggressive in seeking product placements in films for its vehicles and hit it big with Paramount’s Iron Man, which grossed $318 million in the U.S. and Canada this summer.
   “Audi R8 speedster in which action star Tony Stark (aka Robert Downey Jr.) raced around town,” notes the Business Week article by Ron Grover. “And when the action film Transporter 3 opens on Nov. 26, car chase fans will get to see a nearly two-hour commercial for the Audi luxury sedan A8 as it outruns police, outmaneuvers a truck by riding on two wheels, and flies through the air to land on a speeding train—all without so much as losing a hubcap.”
   In the Business Week article, Audi denies paying cash to producers for placement, but says it provides vehicles and promotes movies in its own ads. The car maker put its joint ad spend at $2 million per film (which sounds low considering Audi gets plugged too—maybe this direct costs for making ads and overseeing promotions, and not media ad buy expenses). Not all product placements pan out. Sarah Jessica Parker drove an Audi in the film Smart People, which brought in an anemic $9.5 million—meaning the movie wasn’t seen by many.
   The article adds: “James Bond sped along European roads for years in his Aston Martin (or a BMW in later installments). Disney’s Love Bug starred, well, you know. And last year’s megahit Transformers seemed to feature most of the General Motors lineup, including a bright yellow Camaro that converts itself into one of the robotic heroes.”
   Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition can add a couple of things. Audi is a car maker spending heavily for a long-term promotional effort to pull up its image to BMW, which it already has done in Germany. The book devotes a great deal of text and graphics explaining product placement tactics and strategy, including Audi’s success with Fox’s I, Robot, in which star Will Smith drives around Chicago in the year 2035 in what is a futuristic Audi concept car.
   Also, while Audi is gung ho for film product placements, Volkswagen is disappointed with an alliance it struck with Universal Pictures and withdrew.
   Volkswagen reportedly signed a contract in 2005 calling for it to pay $40 million a year for its cars to be shown prominently in Universal films, at premiere parties, in DVD promotions and in theme parks. However, VW was known to be disappointed with its exposure and recently ended the deal early. VWs appeared in Universal films Bourne Ultimatum, Knocked Up, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift and Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” as well as SUVs incorporated in a Mummy ride at a Universal Studios theme park.
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