'Transformed' GM Hits Big Screen

MADISON & VINE: Project Integration in Film Play into Reinvention Efforts

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General Motors Corp.'s road to redemption is running right through Hollywood, as the automaker's brands take starring roles in a movie with a title that says it all: "Transformers."

The marketer's Chevrolet, Pontiac, Hummer and GMC brands are prominently featured in the film, co-produced by DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, as the lead characters that transform into giant two-legged, gun-toting, talking robots.

"The movie title itself is a very strong communication device for the transformation of our company for delivering outstanding products in the marketplace," said Bob Kraut, director-GM brand marketing and advertising. "It really represents the product renaissance. Transformation is great to live under if you want to communicate that. Thank God that there's a movie called 'Transformers' that we can play in."

GM earlier this year pulled out as a sponsor of CBS's reality show "Survivor," saying it wanted to play a bigger role in the entertainment projects it appears in. It no longer wants to simply give away its cars and trucks. It wants the vehicles to be central to the plot or serve as characters.

That's exactly what's happening with "Transformers," a $100 million-plus live-action adaptation of the Hasbro-owned property, which began in the 1980s as a first-of-its-kind toy that could morph into different objects. It features two warring factions of alien robots, the Autobots and the Decepticons.

It's no coincidence that GM will appear in the film. The automaker has had a long relationship with "Transformer" director Michael Bay, who is also known for helming high-profile commercials, including some for GM.

In addition to his ad work for GM, Mr. Bay has prominently integrated the company's cars and trucks in key scenes in his films. A futuristic concept car from Cadillac was featured in DreamWorks' "The Island," and a Hummer H2 was featured in a major action sequence in Columbia Pictures' "Bad Boys II."

Hollywood's William Morris Agency, which reps both Mr. Bay and GM, brokered the deal for the automaker to appear in those films as well as "Transformers." GM's product-placement agency, Norm Marshall and Associates, Los Angeles, also played a key role. Creative Artists Agency reps Hasbro, owner of the $3 billion Transformers franchise that's spawned nine different animated TV shows and a feature-length animated movie.

Matching demographics

GM is not funding any of the film's production as part of its deal. Neither is Hasbro.

"The 'Transformers' franchise has a huge following," Mr. Kraut said. "It will be one of the major films next year. [Its] demographics match up well with some of the demographics that we want to attract."

It was also a good fit for the filmmaker, said producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, speaking at Advertising Age's Madison & Vine conference last week. "On a movie like this, it would have been really hard to manage multiple [automakers]" he said. "We also needed a car company with a breadth of products that would be cool enough or tough enough [to portray the characters]."

The timing of the film's release-scheduled for July 4-couldn't be better for the world's largest automaker, which is struggling to regain financial footing, build more appealing vehicles and compete with fast-growing foreign rivals such as Toyota.

Details of GM's marketing plans around "Transformers" aren't yet finalized, but executives said they plan to use the film's title as a way to promote its lineup of vehicles and boost its image among consumers.

GM's current ad campaign, "Elevate," is linked to another transformation (print and TV ads show cars literally elevating above gridlock traffic) to win over consumers unsure about the quality of its cars and trucks.

Just how much of GM's marketing budget will be spent around the film also is yet to be determined. Negotiations with Paramount and DreamWorks are still under way.

"The content [in 'Transformers'] is very good," Mr. Kraut said. "The cars are integral to the story. They generate attention. It's a story of good vs. evil. Our cars are the good guys."
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