By AMY WILSON | Automotive News
Halle Berry drove a Thunderbird in the last James Bond movie, "Die Another Day".
Ford Motor Co.'s new deal with a Hollywood film studio will allow the automaker to write its cars and trucks into movie scripts.
The deal with Revolution Studios gives Ford product placement opportunities in films produced by the studio. Ford will provide the vehicles and pay for special advertising and promotions.
The partnership with Revolution has generated one movie with a road-trip plot. Starring rapper Ice Cube and a tricked-out Lincoln Navigator, the film Are We There Yet? is scheduled to arrive in theaters this year. Ford is expected to announce other deals soon.
Ford and other automakers are pursuing deeper ties with Hollywood as one alternative to traditional TV advertising. Automakers are disillusioned with high TV costs at a time when recording devices such as TiVo allow viewers to avoid watching ads.
Revolution is headed by former Disney executive Joe Roth. The studio is a newcomer to Hollywood. But Revolution has signed movie deals with some of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Jennifer Lopez and Julia Roberts.
Ford's marketers worked with the creative team writing the screenplay for Are We There Yet?, and the Navigator appears in 75 percent of the film.
Automotive marketers are looking for less intrusive ways to advertise, and product placements are one option.
General Motors has pursued product placement deals in Hollywood. For example, the movie The Matrix Reloaded includes a lengthy chase scene featuring Cadillac's new models.
Chrysler has also begun forming partnerships with two studios in an effort to increase its product placement in major motion pictures.
Likewise, Ford is betting that consumers are more likely to buy an F-150 or a Mustang if they see their favorite characters driving one onscreen.
"If you want to watch 'Alias' or '24' or a movie, any interruption is going to be an interruption. I don't care how entertaining the advertising is going to be," says Jan Valentic, Ford vice president of global marketing. "We have to rethink how you get somebody engaged."
But will Ice Cube persuade more consumers to buy Lincoln Navigators? The connection between vehicle sales and movie exposure is hard to quantify.
Ford's Valentic points to the James Bond movie franchise as an example of successful product placement. While Bond adds cachet to the brand, he usually has driven pricey Aston Martins that are out of reach for most moviegoers.
But in the most recent Bond film, Ford secured a product placement for a more affordable vehicle. In Die Another Day, Halle Berry drove a Ford Thunderbird with a coral paint job.
To exploit the publicity, Ford produced 700 similar special-edition Thunderbirds priced at $43,995.
Ford research shows that publicity surrounding the James Bond film generated 1.4 billion so-called public relations impressions. That translates to about $60 million in publicity value, a Ford spokeswoman says.
Valentic says Ford's new approach to product placement would cost less than previous efforts. That is largely because Ford is dealing with studios directly and cutting out third-party agents paid to secure the product placement deals.
Even so, Ford continues to participate in more traditional product placement opportunities. For instance, a road-trip movie starring Cedric the Entertainer debuts in April. In the movie, Cedric drives a Lincoln Navigator. But Ford did not have input on the script.
A member of Ford's founding family is helping the automaker to romance Hollywood.
Alessandro Uzielli, a cousin of CEO Bill Ford and grandson of Henry Ford II, is a film producer and restaurateur living in Los Angeles. Because he rubs elbows with Hollywood notables, he is introducing Ford Motor marketers to movers and shakers in the entertainment capital.
"Quite honestly, we aren't Hollywood savvy," Valentic says. "So we need people that we can trust to help us make the right decisions to partner up with people with integrity."
Ford Motor is trying to capitalize on celebrity exposure during Oscar week.
Bill Ford is scheduled to attend a star-studded charity party on Saturday, Feb. 28, the night before the Academy Awards.
Then the automaker will host a "stars-and-cars" party on Sunday, Feb. 29, at Uzielli's restaurant, La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Ford marketing executives will be on hand to tout the automaker's cinematic history.
One star will be the Ford Mustang. Ford says the Mustang has been featured in more than 300 movies and TV shows - more than any other car on the market.
Despite its interest in Hollywood, Ford Motor has scaled back an earlier plan to chauffeur celebrities to Oscar festivities in hybrid-powered Ford Escapes.
The automaker did not have enough vehicles to ferry several stars, a Ford spokeswoman says.
But Diane Keaton, a nominee for best actress, has pledged to take the only available hybrid Escape to the red carpet on Sunday, Feb. 29.