Movie magic is elusive

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Placing your marque in a surefire hit movie is the ticket to big-time exposure for a carmaker. Look what James Bond driving a new Z3 as his latest toy in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's "GoldenEye" did for BMW's visibility in 1995.

But not every hit film is a proper vehicle for product placement. Academy Award winner "Traffic," from USA Films, didn't have an easy time getting car placements. "We were approved to do `Traffic,' but we turned them down," notes Eric Dahlquist, president of Vista Group, which handles product placement for DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz. The carmaker didn't want its vehicles associated with drug dealers.

Mercedes can be touchy about such things. "Mercedes has a strict policy-no scenes with cut-up bodies in the trunk, no safety devices disconnected, nothing that that makes the car appear in a bad light," Mr. Dahlquist says. MGM's "Heartbreakers" and Warner Bros.' "Sweet November" are two current films that Burbank, Calif.-based Vista handled for Mercedes.

Other auto placements in this year's upcoming films include a Chrysler Sebring convertible in Paramount Pictures' "Rat Race," a Dodge Grand Caravan in Universal Pictures' "Dragonfly," a Chrysler PT Cruiser in MGM's "Bandits," and for Mercedes, an ML320 sport-utility vehicle in Warner Bros.' "Swordfish and an S500 sedan in Walt Disney Co.'s "The Visitor."

The Bond/BMW Z3 rollout excluded, most car companies say it's tough to peg the debut of a new model to an upcoming film since the movie's production or release date is subject to change. The idea is to get the year's hot auto model in a film released during the same year.


"The Z3 was a win-win situation for the Bond film and BMW. It was the first Z3, and it had a futuristic look. It seemed as if it was created for Bond, just very organic with the character," says Gerry Rich, president of worldwide marketing at MGM. "The downside was they didn't have enough of the cars ready to sell."

Jim McDowell, VP-marketing for BMW of North America, says the experience was both exhilarating and frustrating. "Availability in terms of demand was literally cut in half," he says. Although he couldn't quantify how many cars were sold as a result of that placement, "I can say that we sold an incremental amount because of Bond. Seeing how it performed [on the big screen] did deepen people's brand understanding of the car as well."

Joshua Ravetch, VP-product resources for New Line Cinema, notes: "It's difficult to track a spike in car sales because of a movie because sales in America are subject to the economy. That really affects the market more than this form of advertising. That is not to say it doesn't help. It's just very difficult for anyone to quantify."

"The purpose of this is to have the car contribute something to the film's character driving it," says Susan Safier, VP-product placement, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. "That issue always comes first."

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