We take a look at product placement of cars in films and TV series, the different reasons why manufacturers do it, along with some famous examples.
Product placement isnt always about pushing new models, the main focus is often on raising brand awareness. Audi created a completely new concept car for the film I, Robot. With over 55 million people seeing the film, and the car featuring for nine minutes in total, it resulted in a huge amount of brand recognition for them.
Some critics argue that product placement can spoil the film by looking out of place. For example in the zombie apocalypse TV show The Walking Dead, an amazingly clean Dodge Challenger is driven around, despite everything else around being covered in dust (and sometimes guts!).
One of the most infamous product placements of all time was James Bond driving a Ford Mondeo in Casino Royale. The plot suggested it was just a rental car, but it still left a lot of Bond fans grimacing. In fact throughout Casino Royale virtually all the cars shown or seen in the background were from brands owned by Ford at the time, including Aston Martin, Volvo and Land Rover.
It wasnt the first time that 007s car was the result of product-placement. BMW were rumoured to have paid around 20 million to have him drive a BMW Z8 in The World is Not Enough.
Of course getting Bond, one of the coolest characters of all time, to drive your car is always going to give a good brand impression. MINI chose the rather less charismatic Austin Powers to drive some MINI Coopers in Austin Powers 3 - Goldmember.
Companies like their products to be associated to characters with similar personalities. Which is why Lara Croft, from Tomb Raider, was given a Jeep Wrangler to drive, its a great brand match. Though were not quite sure what Mercedes were trying to say when they paid for Samantha from Sex and the City to drive a GLK.
Car manufacturers frequently like to make sure their cars are the only ones to feature in a movie. In Iron Man there werent many cars that didnt have an Audi badge on. The Audi R8, S5, Q7 and A6 all made an appearance. Such product placement wont come cheap, many films rely on product placement income for financing and without it some blockbusters would never have been made.
Often its all about the money. Theres frequently very little or no connection to the cars in the plot, its simply a great way for film studios to earn some extra cash without hindering the story. Volvo must have paid a lot to have some of their cars shown in the Twilight films series. Why do they pay so much? So they gain strong brand recognition from the younger Gen Y and Zs. Capturing them whilst their actually engaged in one medium is notoriously tricky.
Its not just films that manufacturers like their cars to be featured in, its also TV shows. Volvo had the lead detective in Midsummer Murders drive an S80, one of the main characters in hit TV sitcom Modern Family will also be driving a new Volvo S60
Not all product placement is paid for though, sometimes by just providing vehicles for filming a manufacturer can get some great airtime. For example Maserati is thought to have struck a free agreement to have the GranTurismo star in the upcoming film Limitless. The reason the producers chose Maserati? Because they were the only company who could supply one for filming two weeks before they needed it.
If you want your car to be in a BBC production then its a similar situation. Due to licencing laws they cant accept paid product placement, so its down to who can provide suitable cars for when they need them. By providing the vehicles for free, it saves the BBC having to rent cars for filming. A win-win for both parties!
You can see why car companies readily spend a fortune on product placement. Its a great opportunity to have millions of captivated people see their cars shot in an impactful, arty way on the big screen, often set against atmospheric music, and have their products associated with well-known characters. How much this actually directly translates to sales is hard to tell, but its really more of a brand building exercise for the manufacturers, and one we think eventually pays off.
We love seeing new cars in movies and TV shows when it makes sense to the plot and the characters personality. As for James Bond driving a Ford Focus, that were not so keen on.