Autos Get Their Close-Ups

Apr 26, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Bernie Mac drives a Cadillac Escalade on Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show.” Sydney Bristow of ABC’s “Alias” prefers a Ford F-150 pickup to chase villains, while Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos” drives a Hummer H2. Fans of Fox’s “American Idol” saw a Ford Mustang in the background as contestants crooned the 1960s hit “Mustang Sally.” Investigators on CBS’s “CSI” and “CSI: Miami” drive to crime scenes in GMC trucks. And in the network’s pilot “CSI: New York,” chief investigator Rick Calucci (played by actor Gary Sinise) will drive a Cadillac STS, while his co-workers tool around in Escalade EXTs.
As tech-savvy consumers learn to click and program around commercial breaks, marketing-savvy automakers are learning to weave their products into the scripts of major television shows and events.
“Product integration and developing branded content have become very important for all manufacturers; it’s a way of helping put your product and values in a context that hopefully resonates more powerfully with your intended audience,” said Steve Wilhite, Nissan VP of marketing.
Automakers spend from $75,000 to $5 million a year on product placement agencies to put their vehicles in movies and television shows, according to Automotive News, the Crain Communications automotive industry trade journal. Sources said the average cost is about $400,000 annually.
General Motors and Ford Motor Co. have the highest-profile network deals. GM thinks its product integration programs are worth the cost because they help achieve its objective.
“We know that with the right kind of placement and the right kind of promotion, we can really move the needle with consumers,” said Steve Tihanyi, General Motors’ general director of marketing alliances and regional operations.
GM tracks consumer attitudes toward individual brands with viewers who have seen a blockbuster movie featuring one of its vehicles. It also looks at whether the person who saw the movie visited a dealership.
The research also takes into account the type of show the consumer watched. GM classifies each television property as A, B or C, depending on how much the vehicle is used in the show. Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is an A-level show to GM because much of the show happens inside and around the exterior of a GMC Denali XL.
As the cost of advertising rises, product integration also helps make television a better value for the auto industry, which is interested in extending its creative reach beyond the 30-second spot. For instance, in October Ford aired two mini-movies on the F-150 (one is 31/2 minutes long, the other is 21/2 minutes) at the beginning and end of the Fox action show “24.” The movies were shot in the breathless, dramatic tone of the show.
Product placement deals are negotiated as part of Ford’s advertising package with networks, said Mr. Kaline, global media manager for Ford Motor Co.
“The media buy drives the product integration opportunity; then it’s up to our brand entertainment group to build it out,” Mr. Kaline said.
Mr. Tihanyi and Mr. Kaline said television shows are selected based on the natural fit between its characters and the brand. Automakers have no creative control over how many times their vehicles are on-screen or whether they are mentioned on air.
Mr. Wilhite said Nissan’s focus is “more narrow” than that of its competitors. The company seeks a perfect fit between vehicle and show rather than attempting to buy the widespread use of its vehicles throughout Hollywood.