How Maserati Landed Spots in 'Limitless' and 'Entourage' for Free

3:10 PM PST 03/11/2011 by Daniel Miller
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The Hollywood Reporter magazine looks at how nimble marketing allows the car company to compete in product placement against bigger rivals.

Maserati stopped hiring product-placement consultants in 2008, the year the recession crippled the high-end automotive marketplace, forcing many companies to winnow their marketing budgets. (Indeed, many wealthy people mothballed their sports cars out of embarrassment during the dark days of 2008 and 2009.) But the company's scaled-back efforts haven't stopped it from snagging recent placements in television shows such as Showtime's Californication and the feature film Love, Wedding, Marriage, due out this year.

"They are networking to create those relationships," says Stacy Jones of Hollywood Branded, a marketing firm that represents companies including boutique carmaker Morgan. "Are they in as many productions as they could be? No. Are they in as many as they want to be? Possibly."

Ehoodin says he's pleased with Maserati's "guerrilla-style effort," and it is fitting for a company that has never sold more than the 2,541 cars it moved in 2007, when the GranTurismo Coupe launched. The convertible version, which starts at $140,200, came out last year. Although Car and Driver, Motor Trend and other trades have given the convertible strong write-ups, noted automotive writer Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal and a handful of others have given GT models less-than-stellar reviews during the past few years, knocking their at-the-limit handling and performance. It's possible an association with heroes of both the small and silver screens could be a difference-maker for Maserati.

If there is one murky facet of automotive product placement, it's quantifying how such opportunities impact sales. Rebecca Lindland, an automotive analyst at IHS Global Insight, says placement of luxury cars doesn't necessarily translate into sales, though it does translate into aspiration. But Ehoodin says that in at least one instance, placement directly resulted in sales: The company's Quattroporte sedan was featured heavily in the second season of HBO's Entourage and was in fact a plot point. In Episode 2 of that season, which aired in 2005, burgeoning Hollywood star Vincent Chase buys a silver-on-black version of the sedan for his manager and best friend, Eric "E" Murphy. From then on, the car was included in several episodes of the show and Maserati never paid for the placement. It couldn't have come at a better time for the company, which was only three years into its U.S. relaunch.

"We literally had people coming in over and over again to our dealers, and they were mentioning the show," Ehoodin says. "The setup -- silver with a black interior -- became known as 'E's car.' It did wonders."

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MASERATIS ONSCREEN

Entourage: A Quattroporte appeared in Season 2.

Love, Wedding, Marriage: A GranTurismo Convertible and a vintage Ghibli will be seen in the upcoming film.

Desperate Housewives: Eva Longoria's Gabrielle drove a Spyder during the show's first season.

Max Payne: Mila Kunis' Mona Sax piloted a Quattroporte in the 2008 film.
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