News Column

The Orange County Register Susan Carpenter column

May 2, 2013

YellowBrix

May 02--When Tony Stark isn't suited up in metal saving the world, the self-described genius billionaire playboy philanthropist zips around town in the all-electric Audi e-tron.

At least he does on screen, in "Iron Man 3," in an early kickoff to a summer blockbuster season that will see hundreds of speeding, squealing, exploding, airborne, rolling and smoking vehicles in dozens of high-adrenaline films.

Chloe "Hit-Girl" Moretz won't just don a purple cape in "Kick-Ass 2," she'll do so on a color-matched Ducati Panigale. When Hugh "Logan" Jackman travels to Japan for some superhero soul searching, he's whisked through the streets of Tokyo in an Audi A8 Spyder. Then there's Tyrese "Roman" Gibson, who jumps from a Ford Mustang moments before it's crushed by the tracks of a tank in the sixth installment of the supercharged franchise, "Fast & Furious."

"Every one of these movies, the action gets bigger, the story gets better and we wreck a lot more stuff," said Dennis McCarthy, car coordinator for "Fast & Furious 6," which, alone, features more than 300 vehicles.

Yes, that's a three with two zeros -- including 10 Dodge Charger SRT8s, nine Ford Mustangs and a smattering of Aston Martin DB9s and Range Rovers, few of which survived filming.

Most of the vintage muscle cars favored by Vin "Dom" Diesel were sourced "like everyone else," McCarthy said, through Craigslist, eBay, Autotrader and swap meets. The Dodge SRT8s and Ram trucks were provided courtesy of the manufacturer, as was the Ducati Monster 1100 ridden by Gal "Gisele" Gadot and the Harley-Davidson XR1200X that was customized into a flat tracker and flogged by Sung "Han" Kang on camera. The Harley now sits in director Justin Lin's office.

STAYING TRUE TO CHARACTER

As summer films become more explosive and action oriented, so too are the cars and bikes that are featured. But as much as vehicles add a level of excitement and engagement to filmgoers' experience, viewers are increasingly sophisticated. It's no longer acceptable just to place the most current or desirable product. The cars have to be true to character.

"For me, the biggest focus with putting vehicles in the movie is to make them work for the movie and not seem like product placement," said James Mangold, director of the upcoming Marvel film "The Wolverine," starring Hugh Jackman and, briefly, a Ducati Diavel and Audi R8 Spyder.

Most of the riding and driving is done by a female character named Yukio who nicks vehicles from her wealthy boss and uses them to perform "hard stops, hard pull-ins, and pulling in to tiny spaces at high speed," Mangold said. "But we're the movie about a guy with claws, so the real action in our film is more hand-to-hand and physical."

Despite the limited screen time, the Ducati Diavel and "The Wolverine" are a "perfect fit," said Stefano Sbettega, marketing and communications director for Ducati North America in Cupertino. "It's a fantastic combination of what the motorcycle represents and the Wolverine, who is somehow devilish and has a huge following all over the world."

The devil, or Diavel, has been on the market two years but is getting the film treatment for the first time through "The Wolverine," in which it will be ridden by Jackman (a motorcyclist in real life) as well as the Yukio character, Sbettega said. The other two films in which Ducati bikes will race across the big screen this summer also feature women riders -- in "Fast & Furious 6" and "Kick-Ass 2."

"It's not something we planned," Sbettega said. "But we're certainly happy it's coming up. It's good to let the female audience see and understand that motorcyclists are not just toys for boys."

EXPOSURE CAN TRANSLATE TO SALES

Just as the films are fantasies, so too is the idea of ownership. Placing vehicles in a high-profile movie promotes a fantasy that marketers hope will translate into sales.

"Three percent of the population has a license to motorcycle in this country, so the upside is significant to put motorcycling on the map," said Dino Bernacchi, marketing director of Harley-Davidson Motor Co. in Milwaukee, and former branded entertainment director for General Motors. "When you see a cool scene with a cool person riding a motorcycle, it starts to seed that desire."

As part of an ongoing partnership with Marvel comics that began with "Captain America" in 2011 and continued with "The Avengers" last year, Harley-Davidson has also provided a V-Rod for "Iron Man 3." And it's extending the action off the big screen to the Web, where consumers can create their own superheroes, design their own bikes and, potentially, become part of the Road Force heroes that help Iron Man through a critical mission in a published Marvel comic book that will be unveiled at this summer's Comic-Con. A similar promotion in conjunction with "The Avengers" yielded 60,000 new customer leads, Bernacchi said.

Audi has likewise partnered with Marvel on "Iron Man" "to not only boost brand visibility but create a platform to showcase the latest cutting-edge technology," said Loren Angelo, marketing director for Audi of America, which has provided multiple cars for all three installments of the "Iron Man" franchise.

"Specifically with 'Iron Man,' the franchise seamlessly integrates the product in a way that is able to reach automotive enthusiasts, current and aspirational luxury buyers, as well as create fans of the brand in a smart, strategic and efficient way that is fun and engaging."

The number of advertising impressions generated through a blockbuster film and its many distribution channels, Angelo said, is "worth millions at a fraction of the cost."

Contact the writer: scarpenter@ocregister.com or Twitter @OCRcarpenter

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(c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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