Automakers pony up for event sponsorship to reach auds

Fresh faced ingenues won’t be the only ones vying for attention at this week’s preem for “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.” As part of its deal with the filmmakers, Maserati will supply its own stars for the red carpet.

The carmaker hopes to rev up awareness among Hollywood tastemakers with the appearance, the latest in a series of vehicular drive-ons to industry events. Cars have become a powerful promotional machine to be reckoned with, on screen and off.

Maserati cars play a supporting role in the “Charlie’s Angel” sequel — much like the Mini Coopers in “The Italian Job” and the souped-up vehicles from “2 Fast 2 Furious” — but such direct tie-ins aren’t required for carmakers to pony up the coin for an event sponsorship. GM mounted a lavish fashion show during Oscar week, with the rationale that its cars are just as fashionable as the outfits sported on the kudocast. On a more modest level, Audi sponsored last week’s Gotham bash for John Malkovich and k.d. lang as part of its Never Follow campaign, while German counterpart VW has tied into Variety‘s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” soiree this week.

“People in the entertainment community are trend setters, and these events represent a great way to reach them,” says Tera Hanks, exec VP and partner in Davie-Brown Entertainment, who orchestrated a series of Mini Cooper events to tie into the “Italian Job” bow.

Besides dozens of press screenings, the car manufacturer hosted a drive-in movie preem on the Paramount lot, which drew Mini owners from around the country. Hanks says client BMW also has expressed interest in tie-in promotional events for its next product launch. “We’ve seen a significant increase in requests for celebrity events,” she says.

“In general, car marketing is an image marketing business — especially in luxury brands,” says Gary Mezzatesta, prexy for Unique Product Placement. Car manufacturers are sponsoring a variety of entertainment events beyond Hollywood preems, he adds, such as art openings and symphonies.

“They’re positioning upscale brands at upscale events that, like the brand, appeal to the affluent,” he says.

Luxury cars like Lexis — which Mezzatesta reps — Maserati and Mercedes are cars many people aspire to own one day, and that rarefied appeal is a two-way street. On the one hand, carmakers want to appeal to the celebrity crowd; on the other, event planners want to draft off that cool for their party.

Seth Jacobson fields calls for Maserati promotional appearances on a weekly basis and, as their rep, strives to make sure the company ties into the right events without overcommercializing the brand.

“As the industry that covers entertainment has blossomed,” Mezzatesta says, “and provides an opportunity for coverage, so has the interest of car manufacturers increased.”

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