Product placement

Tricky business, product placement. Get it right and whole generations are imprinted with a need for something they've never seen.
Product placement
By Isaac Bouchard
Sat 17 May 2008 04:00 AM

Tricky business, product placement. Get it right and whole generations are imprinted with a need for something they've never even seen in three dimension.

Think MINI in America, channelled via the Italian Job movie; think Bullitt Mustang in England; think Aston Martin everywhere. Get it wrong and not only are you a cautionary marketing tale to industry insiders, but you're out of sales as well.

More deplorable was creating an alternate reality where every vehicle was a Ford.

Many of us had high hopes for the re-imagined '80s cheese-classic Knight Rider and wondered if GM missed a trick by not bringing the '09 Camaro to the party. Besides, how could it allow a pony car nemesis to take over the role of KITT?

Our questions were answered recently, and it appears that at least someone high up in the General's ranks has a measure of discernment.

Aside from some early homage shots of the ol' Firebird's 'Tuned Port Injection' manifold, the show was pretty much an unmitigated disaster for old fans and musclecar aficionados alike: poor pacing, worse acting, low-budget CGI; the works.

Even a cameo by Hoff couldn't save it. Critics and normal folk alike panned it.

From the perspective of product placement, there were two major mistakes. First, Ford allowed the writers and producers to undermine the very potency of their Mustang-based supercar in implying that it was unable to outrun an Edge crossover on a demanding mountain road.

If this were post modern reverse psychology marketing we could assume the Edge's independent rear suspension is so superior, that it could stay attached to the ‘Stang's live-axled arse on Angeles Crest road.

Or maybe the rumours are true, and the GT500KR's horsepower ratings are indeed inflated. Either way, this isn't gonna get the rednecks outa their Dodges and Chevys - or get anyone into a Ford showroom.

Perhaps even more deplorable was creating an alternate reality where every car, truck, and SUV was a Ford product. How stupid do the marketing mavens think we are? Ford's been committing these kinds of sins frequently of late.

The Will Smith summer blockbuster I Am Legend also was almost all-Ford; he too drove a freshly detailed Shelby Mustang - for deer hunting, natch!

Such missteps reek of desperation, and serve to remind a media-savvy audience of the dire straits the company is in. The Dearborn brigade isn't alone; many manufacturers find some way to justify such silliness in lieu of motorsports or other more relevant promotional activities.

Nissan almost crossed the line with Heroes. It was only the wink-wink factor of having the lovable geek Hiro Nakamura excited about his econobox Tiida that saved things.

The bigger question becomes: are traditional marketing methodologies dead? GM and Chrysler have cut TV advertising in the US almost in half, and transferred a great deal of those funds to more consumer-direct channels such as targeted web ads.

Video games are one area that's gone from being fringe for carmakers to important: kids and young adults knew they wanted a Nissan GT-R even before it went on sale. If BMW's success and growth over the past five years is anything to go by, perhaps it's more complex.

Using traditional mediums in new ways, and new mediums in unexpected ways, they shocked everyone with their series of eight internet-only short films, produced by David Fincher and directed by such luminaries as John Frankenheimer, Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, Ang Lee, and John Woo. The movies created interest and a good buzz.

Perhaps more importantly, since BMW didn't tell these carefully selected auteurs what to do with the vehicles, the whole thing gave off an ineffable, effortless cool. But it must also be remembered that the cars themselves were desirable to start with. Good taste and good cars make it much easier.

Turning a sow's ear into a silk purse is more of a challenge, and the results are often mixed. Even worse is to denigrate a good brand. What is perhaps saddest about Ford's Knight Rider fiasco is that they managed to make some pretty groovy metal look really bad.

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