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'Fast Five,' 'Thor,' 'Transformers' Mark Return of Summer-Movie Auto Tie-Ins

'Thor' Brings First Entertainment Marketing Program from Honda Motor Co.'s Acura

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Thor and Acura
Thor and Acura
This weekend's blockbuster release of Universal's "Fast Five" didn't just mark the return of the box office, it also reignited another temporarily dormant summer-movie staple: automotive marketing tie-ins.

"Fast Five," which took in over $83.6 million for the year's most successful opening to date, was supported by a hefty marketing campaign from Chrysler's Dodge brand. Dodge has been featured in all five films in the "Fast & Furious" franchise via product placement but "Fast Five" marked the brand's first formal marketing relationship with the series, part of a larger marketing effort to support the launch of its 2011 Dodge Charger. A series of TV ads from Wieden & Kennedy, titled "Car Chases Make Movies Better," got major exposure during the NCAA Final Four championship on CBS, while Dodge also helped sponsor the film's premiere in Rio De Janiero and a "Fast Five"-branded Charger that made its debut at NASCAR's Martinville Speedway on April 3.

The auto-marketing trend continues this coming weekend with the release of Paramount and Marvel Entertainment's "Thor," which marks the first-ever entertainment marketing program from Honda Motor Co.'s Acura. Multiple Acura vehicles are featured in the film itself as the official cars of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel's famed peace-keeping organization, with the Acura TL receiving star treatment in a series of co-branded TV spots from agency RP&, a division of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Rubin Postaer & Associates.

And later this summer sees the release of Paramount's "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," with General Motors returning as the film's automotive partner in support of the Chevy Camaro. A teaser spot aired during this year's Super Bowl, with a media blitz expected to hit closer to the film's July 1 release date. General Motors recently switched its talent-agency representation from William Morris Endeavor Entertainment to Creative Artists Agency as part of its effort to reinvigorate its Hollywood marketing opportunities, as a GM spokeswoman confirmed exclusively to Ad Age .

Year-to-date car sales have increased 17.9% as of April 1, according to MotorIntelligence.com, and the broader economic rebound has already brought automotive spending back in a big way to live sporting events like the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament.

But the Hollywood comeback took a little bit longer to take shape, since automotive partnerships for tentpole movies are often negotiated 12 to 18 months in advance to secure in-film placement and make sure the script and production adhere to the vehicle's specific features. That takes a considerable amount of commitment on the auto brand's part.

"You can never predict what's gong to happen a year in advance," said Susie Rossick, brand manager of Acura's national advertising group. "You need to have the ability to jump on board and say this is a risk worth taking. We want to be part of it."

"It's another great vehicle, another way to get people engaged with your car with your brand," Ms. Rossick added. "Sometimes traditional media doesn't have that ability. This gives you the ability to do whatever you want, however you want to engage consumers back with the brand."

Timing is crucial, too. "Every car company is looking for that ultimate confluence of car launch and movie launch at the same time," said Stephanie Sperber, president of Universal Pictures' partnerships and licensing. "Integrations are always an interesting option for car companies. They will often support a film without any integration, but ['Fast Five'] is so incredible in the showcase it provides -- you get to see the car doing really cool things. It's the best of the best in terms of showcasing really great car moments."

Ralph Gilles, CEO of Chrysler Group LLC and Dodge brand president, told Ad Age via email that Dodge has launched six new or improved vehicles in the 2011 model year and is constantly looking for effective sponsorship opportunities, whether it's the brand's support of "Fast Five," the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Super Cross or NASCAR, among others.

"The 'Fast Five' premiere fit perfectly with the new Charger's introduction into the marketplace," Mr. Gilles said. "It's an excellent opportunity to showcase our brand's flagship sedan in a very organic way in a great movie that has a huge fan base. Continuing to create awareness about the Dodge brand and its products in a unique and engaging manner is definitely a priority."

July's release of "Captain America: The First Avenger" will also be accompanied by a to-be-named automotive partner, according to Bob Sabouni, exec VP-worldwide marketing partnerships at Marvel Entertainment, further evidence that comic-book properties have become a new go-to for auto brands a la Audi and the 'Iron Man' films.

"At our core competency, we are the perfect partner for a car company," Mr. Sabouni said. "We're about creating summer tentpole movies with lots of action and action lends itself to great car partnerships. We've been fortunate to have great partners. The partnership has to be holistic and organic to the storytelling and not ever curb that process."

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