Automakers: Every car needs a movie

MADISON & VINE: Ford, GM boost placement budgets to help push new models

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mgraser@crain.com

Automakers are ready to make a star out of every vehicle they launch.

The major car manufacturers are in the midst of upping their branded-entertainment budgets in an effort to put a spotlight on new or redesigned models they're readying to introduce into the marketplace.

Executives say every car will have a significant branded-entertainment component that is part of the model's overall marketing campaign.

That means more tie-ins with entertainment properties; sponsorship of more live events; and more high-profile product placements in movies, TV shows, music, video games and mobile-phone programming, as well as online content on MySpace and YouTube. And if there aren't enough properties to support, the companies aren't hesitating to create their own anymore.

"We've dabbled here or there [with branded entertainment], but the challenge is getting it to the point where it's a huge part of an overall launch of a product," said Myles Romero, director, Ford Global Brand Entertainment.

Like other marketers, automakers are still trying to thwart the clutter of traditional advertising, increased usage of DVRs and the flight of audiences to the internet. At the same time, carmakers are introducing more models than ever before, with 24% of lineups redone this year and 19% to be replaced in 2007, according to a Merrill Lynch report released Dec. 1. Altogether, automakers will spend an estimated $11.2 billion in measured media next year.

A larger percentage of that will go toward branded entertainment now that Detroit is feeling more comfortable with Hollywood, as is evident by the sheer volume of deals. Ford Motor Co., for example, built a campaign in Europe around the James Bond adventure "Casino Royale" to launch its Ford Mondeo there. Last year, it used shows such as "American Idol" and "Smallville" to promote the Fusion sedan. Next year, Ford will push its Shelby Mustang and redesigned Escape hybrid in Warner Bros.' "I Am Legend," starring Will Smith.

On TV, Nissan planted a stake on ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and used NBC's hit show "Heroes" to roll out its Versa. Toyota has pushed its new models on Fox's "24." Honda has relied on "Rock Star." And Chevrolet generated a lot of buzz around the launch of the Tahoe on NBC's "The Apprentice" and on other shows such as "Las Vegas."

Online, Toyota Motor Sales has just unveiled Scion Broadband, a video-packed site of original content, to push its Scion model.
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