The effort gives Ford exclusive automotive product integration in Our Stories Films, a joint venture between Johnson and the Weinstein brothers. Ford will use the venture to promote Ford, Lincoln and Mercury, and its Jaguar and Land Rover brands to African-American and urban consumers via product placement and cross-promotions with the studio's film releases.
The first Our Stories Films project to feature a Ford vehicle is "Who's Your Caddy?" starring rapper Big Boi, which premiered Saturday and features Ford-brand Land Rover's Range Rover.
The association between Ford and Our Stories was brokered by Ford's urban-market agency, UniWorld, Detroit. But the agency did broker the appearance of Range Rover in "Who's Your Caddy?" which pre-dates the new alliance.
Ford says that the deal goes beyond one-off product placement, in which a studio needs a vehicle for a scene and acquires one through a Hollywood vehicle-placement agency. In this, the integration of Ford vehicles into story lines early on means Ford reviews scripts well before production to decide which vehicles match a story and then negotiates Ford vehicles into movie story lines.
UniWorld Group will collaborate with Ford and Our Stories Films to place the vehicles and develop the Ford marketing strategy around each featured film.
The arrangement between Ford and Our Stories Films also includes the kind of sponsorships, advertising that uses film assets, consumer and dealer promotional opportunities, merchandising and other media options that are typical of such deals.
The strategy is not new to Ford or to other automakers--Volkswagen's multi-year relationship with Universal is one example. Several have moved toward multi-year relations with studios in an effort--often risky--to ride the coat-tails of a film's (hoped-for) success by assuring their cars will be more than just set props. Ford, which has had several of its Aston Martin, Jaguar and other vehicles in recent films, has pursued that strategy since it founded its Global Brand Entertainment Group in 2005.
The group became a Tinseltown entity that year when Henry Ford's great-great-grandson and independent movie producer, Al Uzielli, opened a product-placement office for Ford in Beverly Hills. Uzielli now serves as senior advisor to the group. Others in the L.A. office are Bob Witter, Ford Global Brand Entertainment Manager; Brian Daly, senior partner at J. Walter Thompson, Ford's agency of record; and Ross Mackenzie, also of JWT.
Myles Romero, former director of Ford Global Brand Entertainment, who oversaw Ford's brand-integration efforts from Dearborn, Mich., left the company last week to become vice president of strategic marketing and entertainment alliances at Borders Group.
Among other deals, the group inked a multi-year deal between Ford and Revolution Studios that got a Lincoln Navigator a central role "Are We There Yet," and "Are We Done Yet," starring Ice Cube, and in "Johnson Family Vacation," starring Cedric the Entertainer. The Aston Martin DB 9, Land Rover Range Rover, and a Jaguar S TYPE, were in the NBC show "Studio 60." Ford's Fusion car was in "Evan Almighty," starring Steve Carell, and "Man of the Year," starring Robin Williams. Ford's Edge, as well as Expedition SUV and Shelby Mustang, will have major roles in the forthcoming Will Smith vehicle, "I Am Legend."
Wes Brown, automotive marketing analyst at Iceology, Los Angeles, says that product integration, at least of the old-school kind, is problematic because it is difficult to track and gives marketers little control. "To have some product placement in a movie, and expect immediate gain is obviously not realistic, beyond boosting awareness," he says. "It is useful in helping image management in some regard, whether maintaining or supporting the brand or vehicle's image."
He says the long-term deals that automakers ink with studios reduce at least some of the variables associated with putting one's product in someone else's creative hands.
"With long-term deals, arguably, I should be able to have some control over how the product and brands are presented and used," he says. "Product placement is fine and dandy, but if it's not integrated right it comes off as worse than an ad. Long-term deals allow more seamless integration with regard to product placement. That will enhance consumers' feelings regarding that brand, because they will recognize it, but won't think of it as a sales job."