Car Commercials Borrow From Movies to Make Their Own Stories

Automakers borrow from movies to create their own stories

The car commercial used to be a pretty predictable affair: a shiny new sedan driving through a downtown Los Angeles tunnel or across Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge, unencumbered by traffic, or a celebrity espousing the gadget-laden features of an SUV or minivan.
The imagery and rhetoric became so formulaic, the cars became interchangeable, the marketing messages moot. So what are marketing execs to do?

Many tried product placement deals, but such deals don’t guarantee prime exposure for a company’s product. Many products have been left on the cutting-room floor without advance notice.

But in the latest series of campaigns, a variety of carmakers have put a twist on the typical product-placement deal. They’ve appropriated hit films and popular film characters, making them the focus of the spots. By becoming the storyteller — and hiring A-list talent — automakers are controlling the creative and making the cars more central to the stories.

During the Super Bowl alone, Kia, Toyota and Jaguar turned to “The Matrix,” the Muppets, and villains from “Thor,” “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3” and “Sherlock Holmes” as they hyped their cars and trucks.

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Kia hired Laurence Fishburne to don his leather trenchcoat and reprise his role as Morpheus from “The Matrix” trilogy in a spot for the new premium K900. The ad replicates “The Matrix’s” look, from cinematography, down to props, costumes, black-suited agents and levitating cars.

“We wanted to create an epic commercial that clearly positioned the K900 while resonating with ‘The Matrix’ fans and a broader Super Bowl audience alike,” says Colin Jeffery, executive creative director-managing partner at ad agency David & Goliath, which produced the ad.

Toyota is a promotional partner on Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted,” so to promote the film, Kermit the Frog and friends piled into a Toyota Highlander and made their way to the Super Bowl. A series of online videos documented their journey before the Big Game’s spot.

Jaguar generated considerable marketing mileage by hiring Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley and Mark Strong for a British villains-themed campaign built around its F-Type sports car. Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) directed; Alexandre Desplat composed the music.

This month, Chevrolet is pairing up with Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” with a campaign that cleverly replaces its actors with kids. The spots are directed by the film’s helmers, Joe and Anthony Russo.

Audi, too, has connected with such TV shows as “Homeland” and the “Star Trek” franchise in previous spots, when it wasn’t associating itself with movie characters — Marvel’s Iron Man or Wolverine, for example.

“You can’t underestimate how the entertainment community influences audiences around the world.” says Audi of America president Scott Keogh. Connecting with entertainment keeps Audi “in the conversation,” he says.

The same is true for Kia, which is entering the luxury market with its K900.

“By paralleling one of the major themes in ‘The Matrix,’ which is perception vs. reality, we set out to radically change people’s perception of luxury and the Kia brand,” says David & Goliath’s chief creative officer David Angelo.

What: Massive: The Advertising and Marketing Summit
When:  9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. April 3
Where:  Four Seasons Doheny, Beverly Hills
Web:  variety.com/conference/massive2014

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