Chevy's First Hispanic Film Integration Deal Spawns a Hit

Panamax Films Partnership Could Help Carmaker Reach Audience Underserved by Hollywood

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LOS ANGELES -- Leave it to an automaker to put the cart before the horse.

Only a full week after the Spanish-language film "Ladrón que Roba a Ladrón" was released did Chevrolet finally announce the first-of-its-kind product-integration partnership with Panamax Films, the Latino production company that made it.

Corvettes and other Chevrolet cars and trucks have roles in the hit Spanish-language film 'Ladrón que Roba a Ladrón.'

Opening on just 340 screens in the dumping ground of Labor Day weekend by Lionsgate Films, "Ladrón que Roba a Ladrón" (literally, a "A Thief Robs a Thief") marked the largest release of a Spanish-language film in the U.S. aimed at a Latino audience -- which should give you an idea of just how underserved Spanish-language audiences are.

Impressive weekend haul
But what "Thief" did on those few 340 screens was nothing short of impressive: Some 350,000 tickets were sold, and with a $5,970 per screen average, "Thief" stole away a whopping $2 million box-office haul in its opening weekend. In the simplest possible terms, its success marks a seismic shift that should be heard as loudly in Hollywood as in Detroit.

"Releasing in the doldrums of summer, with little to no fanfare on a nationwide scale?" said Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co. "This is a film that has to be considered a hit. It's the biggest Spanish-language film of the calendar year, and the biggest surprise of the summer."

Of course, in holding its tongue until now, it could be that Chevy was simply familiar with the Spanish saying: "A quien no le sobra pan, no crie can." (For gringos, that translates as "Never spend your money before you have it.")

But in the case of Latino consumers, such an aphorism might be especially apt: Hispanics actually surpassed blacks as the nation's largest minority group six years ago. But Hispanic buying power in the U.S. drew even with African-American buying power only last year -- at just under $800 billion annually -- according to a report on minority purchasing power published last September by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.

So, despite the fact that Hispanics now control more disposable personal income than any other U.S. minority group, they usually have fewer attractive options on which to spend it on at the multiplex.

'Unique opportunity'
Ed Peper, general manager-Chevrolet, called "Ladrón" -- which prominently features Tahoes and Corvettes driven by telenovela megastars -- "a unique opportunity to connect with Hispanic consumers," while Dino Bernacchi, director of marketing alliances and branded entertainment for parent General Motors Copr. said the partnership with Panamax "reflects on our interests to diversify our opportunities."

In July, Ford Motor Co. and BET founder Robert L. Johnson announced an exclusive multiyear marketing alliance with Our Stories Films, Mr. Johnson's new joint-venture with Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Despite the release of Ford's first branded film, "Who's Your Caddy?" in late July, Ford sales still fell about 14% for the month of August.

One company definitely not late to the fiesta seeking to monetize Latino culture is the William Morris Agency, whose corporate consulting and Miami Beach offices packaged "Ladrón." Among its clients: the film's director, Joe Menendez; its screenwriter, Jojo Hendrickson; actors Julie Gonzalo, Saul Lisazo, and Yvonne Montero; its composer, Andreas Levin; and, of course, GM, a corporate client.

Telemundo promotion
To promote the film, over an hour of Chevy-centric film content and promotional spots will also air on U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo. (Of course, that deal shouldn't have been hard to make for Panamax Films chairman Jim McNamara -- he's a former CEO of Telemundo Communications.)

Amusingly, "Ladrón que Roba a Ladrón" was also the Spanish-language title given to Wes Anderson's 1996 classic "Bottlerocket" -- a cult film whose title could be said to evoke Hollywood's approach to Spanish-language films so far: Place on ground, light fuse, get away.
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