Ford Nixes Plans to Spend Up to $30 Million on Warner's 'I Am Legend'

Director Opted for Escape Hybrid, and Money Was Earmarked for Edge Promotion

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LOS ANGELES -- Landing a major automotive partner for a film doesn't guarantee millions of dollars in extra marketing support. Just exchange one car for another to find out why.
Ford's Edge crossover had a role in the Will smith movie 'I am Legend' but was passed up for another Ford marque.

Ford Motor Co. had planned to make Warner Bros.' thriller "I Am Legend" one of its biggest movie tie-ins ever, earmarking as much as $30 million around the film because of initial plans to integrate the new Edge crossover in key action sequences, including the finale.

But the filmmakers decided at the last minute that a different Ford model made more sense in the story, which is an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel about a man (played by Will Smith) who thinks he's the only human remaining after a virus has turned the world's inhabitants into vampires.

No Edge, no money.

Deep pockets and big budgets

The situation shows that it's a difficult dance when Hollywood and marketers come together, which they increasingly do as studios look to deep-pocketed companies to help make noise for movies and advertisers strive to be part of the buzz and excitement of big-budget entertainment.

The general thinking at the studios has been: Land a big brand, and the coin will follow. But automakers, like most marketers, have separate marketing budgets for each of their brands. A new vehicle such as the Edge commands more money than a revamped version of an existing set of wheels, such as the Escape Hybrid.

Marketers need to be able to tell their Hollywood partners -- much sooner than they have been -- just how much they can devote to a film's campaign. Doing so can give studio executives more power to encourage a filmmaker to give a product more screen time.

Budget not guaranteed

In the case of "I Am Legend," Ford was willing to commit as much as $30 million to the film's promotion, but the marketer couldn't guarantee that amount, said executives familiar with the talks. The reason: Talks between Ford and the studio were happening early in the planning process for the Edge launch, when many of the details of its marketing rollout were still in the works.

Ford was attracted to "I Am Legend" not only because of Mr. Smith's star wattage but also because of the demo it's expected to attract: 18- to 34-year-old males, said Myles Romero, director, Ford Global Brand Entertainment.

"I Am Legend" Director Francis Lawrence ("Constantine") and the producers decided in late December to have Mr. Smith's character drive a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid instead of the Edge, feeling it fit better with the character.

The switch created a sticky situation for Ford and the studio. The automaker is putting an estimated $80 million in marketing behind the Edge, aiming to turn it into a much-needed hit as Ford tries to restore profitability and revive sluggish sales. The hefty budget around the Edge is more than Audi or BMW spends on ads for all its cars in a single year.

Crucial launch for Ford

Francisco Codina, Ford's group VP-marketing in North America, called the Edge the "single most important launch for the company this year."

In the end, the filmmakers' preference prevailed. But even though the Edge doesn't have a starring role, Ford still is a key player in "I Am Legend," scheduled to open Dec. 14.

In addition to the Escape Hybrid, Mr. Smith drives a Shelby Mustang in an opening scene that will be featured in the movie's trailers. Thirty scenes of the movie show off the 2008 Ford Expedition SUV. Ford-owned Volvo's Cross Country wagon is used in action sequences.

But the TV, internet and mobile spending Ford had planned around the film will be placed elsewhere. It's too late to tie in with another 2007 film since the major movies have already been shot or are wrapping up.

One place Ford will divert its resources is "American Idol," where the automaker already spends a considerable amount as a sponsor. Mr. Romero said the company plans to up its involvement with the show this year but is still working on final plans.
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