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Trashing Cars in Movies is OK with Some Automakers

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author photo by Autotrader December 2010

As a business, DeLorean Motor Company didn’t have much success, yet it still remains an iconic part of pop culture. Why? Back to the Future, of course. The car, used as Doc’s time machine, is arguably the most famous movie car ever.

Another famous movie-mobile: the cherry red 1966 Alfa Romeo 1600 Spider Duetto driven by Ben in The Graduate. After the movie came out, sales of the car shot up and in 1985 the company created a “Graduate” edition of the car.

Lotus sales tripled after Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’ character shows Richard Gere’s how to drive the sports car. Having a car placed in a movie can undoubtedly boost sales and recognition of a brand. But what if the car is portrayed poorly or it’s the car that a doofus drives? Believe it or not, that’s good for the brand.

In Due Date, in theaters now, Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis drive cross-country in a Subaru Impreza rental car. Some car companies don’t like their cars used in association with anything negative (BMW doesn’t do crash scenes; Porsche passed on Pretty Woman because of the prostitute angle). But Subaru had full script approval, according to company spokesman Michael McHale, and didn’t mind that the characters smoke marijuana in the car and later crash it. On the contrary, they value the placement. “We think the placement was worth $10 million,” says McHale, adding, “The trailer and TV ad alone were worth millions.” He also notes that the Impreza’s reputation for safety was reiterated in the crash scene because the characters walk away relatively unscathed.

Likewise, Toyota isn’t experiencing any backlash from the Prius placement in this summer’s The Other Guys. Rather than drive in a cop car, officers – played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg – drive a red Prius, about which Wahlberg’s character says, “I feel like we’re literally driving around in a vagina.” The car is shot at, infested with rodents and sustains a good amount of damage, but ends up a hero nonetheless.

Or consider 1995’s Get Shorty, where Chili Palmer (John Travolta) asks for a Cadillac when he gets a rental car and gets and Oldsmobile Silhouette mini van instead, which the rental car attendant calls “the Cadillac of mini vans.” And as the movie progresses, the van becomes the trendy car to get in Hollywood. So, even though the Silhouette played the fool, Oldsmobile created a whole marketing campaign around the movie.

Teenagers with hand-me-down clunkers rejoiced when Garth drove a 1976 AMC Pacer in Wayne’s World, giving it a ‘so unhip it’s hip’ cache. And who didn’t want to pile the family into a VW bus for a roadtrip after watching Little Miss Sunshine, despite how many times it broke down or needed a running start to get going.

One movie that probably didn’t help Chevy sales was Swingers, where Mikey (John Favreau) has a red Cavalier. When he reveals what he drives to a woman he’s talking to, she turns and walks away. Is Swingers to blame for the discontinuation of the Cavalier in 2004? Probably not; movies seem to have more power making a car than breaking one.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Trashing Cars in Movies is OK with Some Automakers - Autotrader