x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Car sales soar when screen time comes calling

The Dark Knight Rises and the new James Bond film, Skyfall, will both be as memorable for their cars as their plots, locations and cast.

The Aston Martin DB5 returns in this year's Skyfall but no new models will. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures /Columbia Pictures / EON Productions
The Aston Martin DB5 returns in this year's Skyfall but no new models will. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures /Columbia Pictures / EON Productions

I was undoubtedly the only paying patron incensed by this. It was November 2006 and I was sat in a cinema watching the new Bond film, Casino Royale. A scene set in a car park was what got the blood boiling because practically every single vehicle in it - Land Rovers, Range Rovers, Volvos - was made by the Ford group. There were Ford-branded cars, too, never mind the Aston Martin DBS that Bond himself was driving. Ford had obviously paid a king's ransom for the exposure but did it bother anyone apart from me? Unlikely.

Product placement has become a common - some might say insidious - way for companies to wave their latest wares under the noses of unsuspecting film fanatics. And it's getting worse. In Iron Man, Tony Stark drives an Audi R8. Pepper Potts, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, drives an A5 and close observers will notice the occasional Q7, too. BMW's involvement in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was embarrassingly obvious and even Lamborghini is at it with Batman.

This approach to exposure - brand awareness - seems to work, too. When the ghastly 2003 remake of The Italian Job was being produced, BMW provided more than 30 Mini Coopers for free. The film rightly bombed but sales of the cars were up 22 per cent the following year - hardly surprising as they outshone the actual stars.

Transformers, in 2007, featured a robot that turned into a car that was based on the Chevrolet Camaro. On the back of ticket and subsequent DVD sales, it's estimated that no fewer than 60,000 Camaros have been sold, and that's big business in anyone's book.

The next few months will see two major films being shown in this country: The Dark Knight Rises and the new Bond film, Skyfall. And both of these will be as memorable for their cars as their plots, locations and cast.

Aston Martin wasn't really in a position to benefit from the DB5's star turn in 1964's Goldfinger, basically working out of a shed in England. Now, when a new model provides transport to the world's least discreet secret agent, the factory can meet the resulting demand.

Take that DBS in Casino Royale as an example. EON Productions actually approached Aston Martin to see if there was anything in the pipeline that could be used in the film. A DBS prototype sat in the design studio, years away from actual planned production, but the producers were sold on the idea. The car that starred in the film was actually an old Vanquish in disguise but its exposure was such that Aston Martin quickly launched the production version and sold many times the amount originally envisaged.

BMW has had its mitts all over James Bond in the past, as has Lotus, but when the Bavarians signed a three-picture deal during the Brosnan era, fans were up in arms. Bond in a Bimmer? Surely not. When Pierce Brosnan drove a BMW Z3 into view in 1995's Goldeneye, the car was months away from an official launch. Yet, after barely a couple of minutes' worth of screen time, the cash registers started ringing. Some 9,000 orders for Z3s were placed in the month the film opened.

When Skyfall hits the cinemas on October 26 this year, the DB5 that started all of this off will return to the silver screen. Not the DB5, you understand, but it does sport the same number plates and has also made appearances in other Bond films - and the internet is all of a twitter about it. But there won't, despite the rumours, be a DBS or a new Vanquish. The script, Aston Martin tells me, comes first, and there was simply no call for a new car. That hasn't stopped Aston from naming one of its paint hues for the new Vanquish "Skyfall Silver", though. And, as my source points out, any exposure is good for the brand. He's right, of course, so long as it's more subtle than it has been of late. Nobody likes a show off.