CHICAGO — General Motors Corp. plans to unveil today five concept vehicles starring in the upcoming summer blockbuster sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” — a marketing move the struggling automaker is hoping will boost its image at a critical time.
The automaker is revealing the concepts during the Chicago Auto Show, which is open to the news media through Thursday. The first “Transformers” movie, two summers ago, about alien robots that disguise themselves as cars and trucks was a marketing bonanza for GM, which had several Chevroletvehicles in the film playing lead roles.
Consumer opinions of the Chevrolet brand jumped 72% after seeing the movie, according to internal statistics GM shared with the Free Press. More importantly, consideration for the brand increased 14% after the movie.
Steve Tihanyi, GM’s general director of media operations and branded entertainment, said that having products in a movie provides “two hours of a strong brand message” and one “that’s going to resonate with customers.”
“The numbers will bear that out,” he said.
Marketing experts say the new movie, which is to be released June 26, is an efficient way for GM to attempt to improve its image after its disastrous run in Washington late last year. The automaker is staying afloat with a $13.4-billion federal rescue package and is undergoing dramatic changes including the announcement Tuesday of 10,000 salaried jobs being cut. The company’s sales were down 22.7% last year.
“When you are looking to change your image then the best way … is with what appears to be nonpaid promotion,” said Christie Nordhielm, associate professor of marketing at the University of Michigan.
“You want to stay clear of advertising. The more that it steers toward product placement and you get the product appearing with the people you want to reach, the better off you are,” she said. “For image change, there is really no other way to go.”
Tihanyi said that GM did not pay to have its vehicles in this summer’s movie. Rather, the automaker provides the vehicles to be used and helps in the promotion of the film. To GM, he said, the movie looked like “a one in a million opportunity.”
The big question for GM is whether a sequel can replicate the marketing magic found during the first “Transformers.”
Director Michael Bay was excited to turn to GM again for the sequel. He worked with Ed Welburn, GM vice president of global design, who gave Bay a special tour of GM’s Warren design center. Bay used the time to pick out concept vehicles he wanted to feature in the new movie.
“I’ll never forget this. He asked for a pad of paper, because there were far more cars then he had anticipated that he thought would have or could have a role in this movie, vehicles that he thought were just absolutely right for the movie and would be relevant for his audience,” Welburn said in an interview this week. He declined to say, however, which vehicles would appear.
People familiar with the plans say the Camaro returns and will be joined by Chevrolet Volt, an electric-drive vehicle planned for late 2010; the Chevrolet Spark, which will hit the U.S. market in 2011, and Chevrolet Trax, a concept car.
In addition, popular automotive Internet sites, such as Jalopnik.com, say GM made a special 50th edition Corvette Stingray for the movie.
The company is likely to benefit this summer from the new Chevrolet Camaro’s continued role in the movie. The muscle car hits showrooms this spring, just in time for the summer movie.
GM says that following the release of the “Transformers” on DVD, the company received more than 500,000 requests for more information about the Camaro, two years before it hit the showrooms.
Consumers’ opinion of the Camaro, which plays the role of one of the movie’s heroes called Bumblebee, improved 97% after seeing the movie, according to GM’s numbers.
“Camaro, you could argue, is a product that’s going to have a lot of natural interest anyways, but when you actually go into the science of it, you saw some incredible lifts here,” Tihanyi said of the marketing benefits behind the movie.
“The ‘Transformers’ represent heroic characters. Bumblebee ends up being a genuinely heroic character which is … how we wanted to position the Camaro, as this heroic car, an iconic American car,” he added.
Because the movie is a sequel, however, there’s a chance the marketing campaign won’t be as successful.
“I don’t think they will get the same lift as they got the first time,” Nordhielm said. “In this case, the first-mover advantage is tied with breaking through the clutter and not just breaking through clutter but breaking through and making a connection and getting past the defenses of the consumer. The consumer adapts.”
That said, she agreed with others that the campaign could be an efficient way to improve GM’s image this summer.