Neither of the august organizations that award Oscars and Emmys has categories for awards to auto manufacturers for the use of their vehicles in movies and TV shows.
Imagine the hushed atmosphere, the growing tension, as tuxed and gowned celebrities rip open envelopes to announce:
'For best use of a car in a chase scene, the Oscar goes to ----!'
Obviously, they've missed a great opportunity. For more than a century now, the two seemingly disparate industries, now augmented by TV, have enjoyed a successful alliance.
The reason? Car manufacturers like - no, love - the exposure their vehicles receive on the big and little screens. The entertainment companies find the use of automobiles adds personality to character portrayal and story line.
How do you get the two together? Enter the product placement firms. These are the companies that specialize in getting their clients' products seen on camera. Before submitting a car nomination to the production company's transportation division, the product placement company reviews the script for the appropriateness of its client's vehicles. Call it car casting.
The placement company then recommends a specific vehicle for the character or characters in the script. Many script writers call for a specific make, model and even color for a character's car.
No bad guys
There are, however, caveats.
The specialists will not have clients' products used by unsavory characters. 'If the guy wears a black hat or is a drug dealer, we don't want him to drive a Ford product,' said Norm Funk, formerly of Showcase Placements Inc. in Burbank, Calif., the car specialist company that represents Ford. (Funk has since left the company.)
A case in point: Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of such hits as Top Gun, Days of Thunder and The Rock, has a big production under way called Gone In 60 Seconds that stars Oscar winner Nicolas Cage as a car thief. The plot has Cage's character stealing more than 50 cars in one night.
The result? Nobody, but nobody, wants this movie to include his or her company's vehicles. So Bruckheimer's production company has bought or rented vehicles.
Conversely, everyone wanted to be included in the Richard Gere and Julia Roberts movie Runaway Bride. Norm Marshall & Associates, which handles all General Motors brands, won out. Gere drove a Chevrolet Camaro convertible.
BMW's Bond deal
One high-profile example is the deal BMW made with the producers of the James Bond flicks. The new little Beemer Z8 in the latest Bond adventure, The World is Not Enough, got as much media time as the movie itself. But wouldn't Ian Fleming roll over in his grave knowing that his top, very-British secret service agent was driving a German car?
While Ford and GM seem to favor movie placements, Chrysler, using its longtime placement firm, Hadler Public Relations Inc., has focused on TV shows. Bob Hadler, agency vice president, said: 'Our primary focus is television. TV is much more immediate and has a quantifiable value.'
The placement successes of Ford and Chrysler through their exclusive agents may have triggered GM's September 1999 consolidation of all divisions to one product placement specialist, Norm Marshall & Associates, which has handled Chevrolet for 17 years. Previously, other firms handled Cadillac, Pontiac, GMC, Buick and Olds.
While the scope of placement activities will expand dramatically with this new assignment, agency President Norm Marshall said: 'There are over 600 different movies and shows now in the planning and preproduction phase. This means 600 different opportunities to place GM's 54 vehicles. But things can go awry. The producer may want a green Corvette, but red is the only color available. You can lose a placement that fast.'
What price product placement glory? Every specialist was extremely tight-lipped about the fees involved, but did say they received an annual retainer plus bonuses.
No one wants to discuss whether placement firms sometimes pay for a slot in a desirable film.
The reward for product placement isn't Oscars or Emmys; rather, it's the public seeing its favorite actors driving a specific vehicle.
And maybe there is some image transference, too, as in, 'Hey, look at me! I'm driving the same car James Bond drives!'