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Car firms shifting focus


Product placement in films offers new road into drivers' awareness, Li Fangfang reports.

Get ready for the screen debut of a made-in-China car. A new alternative-fuel vehicle is set to appear in the most popular vehicle-related Hollywood movie, Transformers.

Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd's Trumpchi E-jet, a plug-in hybrid vehicle, will have a prominent role in Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth film in the series directed by Michael Bay, which will hit cinemas next year, Reuters reported, citing a person familiar with the process.

It also said that the E-jet, a concept car that made its debut at the Detroit auto show this past January, will be blown up at least 14 times in the film, which is being shot in the United States and China.

In 2011, Transformers: Dark of the Moon grossed $165 million in China.

No further details have been disclosed by the movie's producers. An anonymous Guangzhou Automobile insider told Reuters that the Guangzhou-based vehicle company hopes the film will lift Trumpchi's brand awareness in overseas markets.

Gu Huinan, vice-general manager of GAC Motor, the passenger car subsidiary of Guangzhou Automobile, said earlier that the company aims to develop aggressively in the global market over the next three to five years.

It's set a target of 100,000 units of overseas sales for the Trumpchi brand by 2017, or 20 percent of total production, compared with several hundred units so far.

No doubt, General Motors Co's successful product placement (a technique also known as embedded marketing) in the Transformers series has set a global example.

"My six-year-old son Duoduo has no concept about cars. But whenever he sees a Chevrolet on the road, he points at the logo and shouts: 'Bumblebee'," said Wen Jie, 33, a university teacher.

Given her son's enthusiasm for Transformers and Bumblebee, she bought a Chevrolet Malibu instead of Toyota Camry.

According to an online survey at major Chinese portal Sina.com, the Chevrolet Camaro in the Transformers series was the most successful instance of movie marketing, drawing 61.9 percent of the responses, followed by the BMW Mini Cooper S's appearance in The Italian Job and the Aston Martin DBS that was driven by James Bond in Casino Royale 007, with votes of 17.5 percent and 16.8 percent, respectively.

Just 3.8 percent of the participants mentioned the Skoda Octavia that appeared in the Chinese popular drama Silver Medalist.

Almost 60 percent agreed that seeing a vehicle in a film helps promote a brand's image, and 33.2 percent said it makes people more likely to purchase such a car. Only 7 percent thought that product placement would mean higher prices.

That would explain why in recent years, more vehicle producers have turned to the big screen to market their cars.

Seeing the success of its super sports car R8's appearance in the Iron Man series in China (and other Audi vehicles' success in local TV series), luxury vehicle brand Audi held the 2013 Audi Film Season in April, the first such themed movie festival organized by a vehicle producer in the world's largest automobile market.

The German brand helped promote six films where its cars made an appearance, either on the silver screen or at online video portals, in the second quarter. Those films included Hollywood's Iron Man 3 as well as Chinese movies American Dreams in China, Switch, Love Speaks, as well two micro movies: Drift, in Name of Love and A Tale of Two Cities.

"Audi China has tried many forms of artistic cooperation to get our brand message across. Sponsoring international and domestic movies, directors and performers is one of the focal points of our marketing," said Ge Shuwen, executive deputy general manager of the Audi sales division in China.

"We hope that through the fascination of film, movie audiences may take Audi to their hearts," said Ge. "The Audi Film Season is an innovative crossover marketing initiative."

A survey by marketing research firm Ipsos found that 69 percent of the 1,000 people interviewed in cinemas across the country said they were attracted to products seen in films. Among the 1,000 respondents, 47 percent said that seeing a product in a movie helps give them a favorable impression.

Ipsos said that product placement actually works better than traditional TV commercials or print ads, as the public is weary of being bombarded by direct marketing.

Further, target demographic groups can be reached more accurately through different movie categories.

Audi China's product placement in American Dreams in China was a smart and praiseworthy choice, as the four generations of the flagship model A6 appeared in different periods in history in the film.

That tactic perfectly matched the theme of the movie - dreams - as owning an Audi A6 was the symbol of success to many Chinese entrepreneurs over the past 20 years.

"I was touched when Cheng Dongqing showed off his Audi and giant mobile phone after achieving initial success in the early 1990s," said a 49-year-old Beijing-based law firm founder surnamed Ma.

"The realistic scene reminded me of my early career days, when owning an Audi was a major motivation," said Ma.

Another notable case of product placement is Mercedes-Benz's positioning in a favorite Chinese lunar new year comedy directed by Feng Xiaogang, If You Are the One 2.

"When the leading performers Shu Qi and Ge You drove the Mercedes through the beautiful natural scenery in Sanya, nobody could ignore the nice SUV," said 28-year-old secretary Yang Yile in Beijing. "I finally got to know what the GLK-Class car my boyfriend kept talking about is, and I fully understand why he loves it."

"Product placement in movies is a common marketing tactic. But just putting brand logos and products into inappropriate scenes may bring negative results. A successful product placement reflects the similar values of the brand and the movie," said Yu Bailiang, dean of WOM Communications New Media Research Academy.

"Automakers should better communicate with movie producers and directors, to see if the brand and product could really be part of the film, naturally," agreed Zhong Shi, an independent auto analyst based in Beijing.


Another marketing tactic has become more popular among vehicle makers: brand micromovies.

In July, Volkswagen Group China Sports Car Project debuted its micromovie Extreme Pursuit, with innovative sports cars from the Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini brands that featured alongside Hollywood star Keanu Reeves.

"The launch of Extreme Pursuit marks the latest effort by the Sports Car Project in innovative marketing.

"Working in close cooperation with Reeves and taking full advantage of social media technologies, we are integrating marketing, film and social media in an engaging and fascinating way to bring sports car culture even closer to the hearts of the Chinese people," said Markus Nels, director of the Sports Car Project.

Reeves stars in this micromovie, making it the first of its kind from the Chinese mainland to feature a Hollywood star.

Sports cars from Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini share the spotlight in several heart-thumping car chases in a story full of twists and turns about courage.

Another instance of cooperation led to Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini cars featuring prominently in a movie that Reeves starred in and produced: martial arts blockbuster Man of Tai Chi.

"Following a series of highly successful programs by the Project, the micromovie brings together intelligent product placement with Chinese and Hollywood stars to deepen Chinese consumers' understanding and appreciation of world-leading sports cars," said Nels.

Volkswagen was not the first automaker to try micromovie marketing. China's first micromovie, the 2010 release Trigger, was sponsored by Cadillac (under GM) which had the leading role. The US Chevrolet brand later the same year cast another warm-hearted micromovie, Old Boy.

Suddenly, brand micromovies became a popular marketing method for automakers, which were attracted by low costs, rich story lines, broad promotion channels and accurate positioning.

A long list of automobile brands, including Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and China's domestic brand Landwind all launched brand micromovies in the past two years.

"Our new micromovie for the CC model, directed by China's famous director Lu Chuan, has seen a huge success, with more than 40 million visits in two months. My boss just messaged me, saying: 'We'll do another one, ok?" Huang Weichong, public relations manager with FAW Volkswagen, told China Daily. "We see a better result than with TV commercials."

Statistics from a micromovie report released by Bale Hudong (Beijing) Media Co Ltd showed that in just the final quarter of 2012, more than 100 companies released brand micromovies on the silver screen and at online portals. These companies also arranged product placements in almost 500 micromovies. "Micromovie marketing mainly targets young and fashionable consumers, who are just the target audience for our vehicles. The combination of advertising and a film story can be easily accepted by young consumers," said Gao Fang, vice-general manager of FAW Toyota.

"Due to the unexpected market response, micromovies may replace TV commercials as the major marketing tactic for automakers in the near future," said Gao.



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