Gear Head Marketers Turn Out for Third 'Fast and Furious' Flick

Filmmakers Hope Young Men, Not Only 'Tuners,' Flock to Cineplex

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LOS ANGELES -- It's all about the gear heads and the brands they love.

Universal Pictures has corralled some high-profile products that are close to the tuner-car community's heart and used them to create promotional campaigns for the upcoming release of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift."
Universal's co-marketing partners for 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' also get ample screen time in the racing sequel.

Co-marketing partners include BP Lubricants' Castrol Syntec, Burger King, I-Play mobile gaming company, Meguiar's car-care products, Rockstar energy drink and Toyo Tires.

Those same brands, not coincidentally, have extensive screen time in the action film, which revs into theaters June 16.

In addition to superserving the hard-core street-racing fan, the studio is trying to lure back the broader 18- to 34-year-old male demographic that's increasingly distracted from the multiplex by other entertainment options.

Disappointing box office

Studios have found little to crow about so far this summer, with disappointing results for flicks such as "Mission: Impossible 3" and "Poseidon" that should have been surefire blockbusters with young men. But Memorial Day might have turned the tide. Fox's "X-Men 3: The Last Stand" broke the three-day holiday's previous records with a $120 million opening, largely on the strength of teen and young-adult audiences. Universal wants to keep that momentum going for "Tokyo Drift," which stars Lucas Black, Bow Wow and a lot of high-gloss, lightning-fast street racers.

"Tokyo Drift," directed by Justin Lin ("Better Luck Tomorrow"), is the third installment of the "Fast and the Furious" franchise. The first two outings raked in a stunning $450 million worldwide. Every Hollywood studio is trying to develop franchises, which can turn into hot long-term commodities that can deliver big money in films, DVDs, video games and merchandise.

Profitable franchise

The "Fast and Furious" movies have proved especially profitable, using emerging talent instead of expensive stars to help keep the production budgets modest. Vin Diesel, who broke out as a star in the original sleeper hit, "The Fast and the Furious," makes a cameo in "Tokyo Drift," setting up further sequels.

The "Fast and Furious" movies were invariably about cars, specifically "tuners," highly modified and accessorized sport compacts from Toyota, Mazda, Nissan or Honda that are as much for show as they are for drag racing. The new movie heads overseas to center around drift racing (hence the title), a type of racing that weighs driving style -- hairpin turns and sliding sideways, or drifting -- more than speed.

Universal is trying to keep the franchise going with a lot of marketing muscle from advertisers.

The studio is blanketing traditional and digital media and bricks-and-mortar retailers. Universal is one of a number of studios -- including Paramount Pictures, for its upcoming comedy "Nacho Libre" -- that are aggressively trying to court young male moviegoers with their marketing messages.

"We looked at what they buy, what they eat, what they do in their spare time," said Stephanie Sperber, exec VP-Universal Studios Partnerships, which marries brands with NBC Universal's films and theme parks. "The promotions had to be current and cool and multiplatform."

Blanketing the auto world

Promotional partners for "Tokyo Drift" are fanning out across auto-parts and oil-change stores, car-enthusiast magazines, convenience stores, National Hot Rod Association races, mobile games, and specialty Web sites. They're running contests to give away drift cars featured in the movie, pimped-out tires and rims, and trips to drifting school.

For its Syntec oil brand, Castrol has planned multilayered support for the film, including advertorials in Maxim and Giant, inserts in Lowrider and other enthusiast publications, online promotion, and a movie-themed NHRA funny car. The marketer will hype the film in 11,000 mass and auto-parts stores and 6,000 oil-change outlets.

"We target the product to car-passionate tuners, which are a younger audience," said Jessica Scholl, ad manager, Castrol. "We felt it was a real match with the drifting team."

Castrol is no stranger to movie tie-ins, having worked with Warner Bros.' "Dukes of Hazzard" last summer. Castrol spent $36 million in measured media in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Hard to reach through mainstream

Carolyn Eckert, promotions manager of BP Lubricants USA, said the "Tokyo Drift" promotion is global, aimed at street racers and their fans, which she described as a "high-value segment for Castrol and typically a difficult market to reach with mainstream media." The marketer wants to build awareness and credibility with that audience, she said.

Meguiar's car-care products and Toyo Tires are launching their own consumer contests, giving away a Mitsubishi Evo 9 like the one seen in the movie, and rims and tires to trick out any self-respecting tuner.

Each will buy full-page ads in magazines such as Auto Week, Car & Driver, Motor Trend and Road & Track and dedicate sections of their Web sites to the promotion. They also will promote in a combined 13,000 retailers and on cable networks like Speed Channel.

Dana Zamalloa, Toyo's manger-senior marketing communications, said the brand had product placement in the first two "Fast and Furious" movies. But the marketer wanted to broaden its placement in the third. "We’re taking a whole different approach," she said, with a full-scale co-promotion.

Marshall Advertising, Costa Mesa, Calif., created print ads that will run for three months, mostly in national auto-buff books, and Toyo's dealers will spend co-op dollars on regional newspapers and radio, she said, targeting males 16 to 25 years old.

Toyo's drift racers

Toyo sponsors two of the nation's top drift racers, Ken Gushi and Tanner Soust, the latter of whom is a stunt driver in "Tokyo Drift."

Providing vital convenience-store exposure, Rockstar energy drinks will plaster "Tokyo Drift" logos and artwork on 20 million cans of its caffeine-charged product in some 5,000 retailers.

I-Play, a mobile gaming company and publisher of two huge-selling "Fast and Furious" racing games, is gathering a number of the movie's promo partners for a mobile text-messaging program. Consumers will be able to download trivia, exclusive movie content, game demos and contest information. Burger King will offer behind-the-scenes movie content for mobile devices.

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Jean Halliday contributed to this report.
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