I saw the new Transformers film a few days ago. A friend and I went to a matinee showing while our wives shopped – they were not interested in seeing a movie about toys we played with in our youth. Instead, they looked for stylish clothing, like the kind they dressed dolls with in their youth. We were hoping that our wives browsed more than they purchased.
“I am a fan of this movie!” said my friend halfway through the film. And why not? As a comic-book action movie, Transformers delivers. The plot was intriguing, the details were true to the original series, and the special effects were seamless. Even Peter Cullen, the Earl-Jonesian voice of Optimus Prime for the original 1986 movie and animated TV show, played that trusty trucker once again. Anyone in my demographic knows that this was one of the best decisions Michael Bay could’ve made. Props to you, quite literally, Mr. Bay.
But, reviewing this film is not the point of this post.
Like my friend, I’m a fan too – but I left that theater thinking one thing: “When will GM start selling that new Camaro?” And then, “Who knew the Pontiac Solstice could look so good?” I don’t even like American cars.
Most folks who know me know I enjoy cars. I believe that globalization in the auto industry actually gives you and me a better choice at the end of the day. If you’ve seen the news lately, you probably know that it’s also giving the American auto industry a beating. Japanese and (usually) European companies are giving us a run (and a ride) for our money. Detroit needs some help – so why not ask Mr. Prime, hero of the universe?
“All hail product placement,” you say. “It’s all about money for advertising in movies today, and I find that intrusive to the art of film.” You then classify yourself as a purist.
And I agree with you. Remember Men in Black II? That movie had more ads than a well-funded presidential candidate. (Was I there to see Burger King or a plot? I still don’t know which was more effective.) A group of researchers at BrandHype.org agree too. They say product placement can upstage the real actors and, often, the real drama.
Transformers was definitely a ginormous advertisement for General Motors. Of the five Autobots (good robots), I counted four with a GM logo. I laughed out loud when I saw that one of the Decepticons (evil) was a Ford Mustang. According to this article, GM supplied 65 cars to the movie. They also launched their massive “Transform your ride” ad campaign to coincide with the film’s promotion. Licensed video games and new toys are on their way, I’m sure.
Advertisers are probably laughing at me. I thought I could see right through those things. After all, Honda (Legos) and Chrysler (Rock-em Sock-em Robots) have both discovered the “This is your toy now, sir” principle as well (both with two familiar toys), but the bait didn’t work. What’s different?
Film. Film is different. It’s a ruthlessly powerful medium. It can inspire us, teach us, reach us, and breach us. It can even sell cars!
Transformers were the coolest thing going when I was a kid. Watching familiar characters transform into sleek cars in a live-action film wasn’t just visually mesmerizing – it captured the emotion and memories of playing with my old toys. Film leads our emotions with visual cues and directives, and this time, something nostalgic and care-free was brought back to life in the hands of the marketing machine.
I ignored the blitz of GM television and prints ads, but I bought in after seeing the film. Well, sorta. I didn’t buy a new car, but I did take time to research a few cars I wouldn’t have otherwise, pondering my budget and future vehicle choice. (“I bet that Solstice convertible is great on sunny days!”) I bet I’m not alone, but I guess we won’t know if GM’s trick paid off until they announce their earnings the end of this fiscal quarter (a quarter that began a few days before the movie hit theaters).
I know, I know. I’m a consumer and I was duped. However, there’s something here worth knowing, and knowing is half the battle (wait, wrong toy). Noticing things like product placement and media tie-ins and subtle marketing does help us feel less controlled, doesn’t it?
For better or worse, film may indeed save the American auto industry. After all, the only difference between men and boys is the price tag on their toys. And when it comes to men and cars, one thing won’t change: wives everywhere still hope we browse more than we purchase.