Firing on all cylinders

GM, eBay tie-ins key to Bay pic

Director Michael Bay, Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks might be hoping to transform the boxoffice when their "Transformers" movie opens Tuesday, but starring roles in the film for General Motors and eBay, an unprecedented takeover of eBay's home page and Bay's decision to direct spots for three tie-in partners might help transform the Hollywood promotions business as well.

GM has four of its vehicles — the Chevy Camaro, the Pontiac Solstice, the Hummer H2 and the GMC Topkick — playing four of "Transformers' " Autobot heroes: Bumblebee, Jazz, Ratchet and Ironhide. It's the type of starring role that every advertiser strives for but rarely achieves, especially in a big-budget summer tentpole film.

"I think this is a once-in-a-motion-picture-history-type opportunity for an automotive company where you have a film that actually incorporates multiple cars that are actually characters in the film," said LeeAnne Stables, senior vp worldwide marketing partnerships at Paramount.

Added Dino Bernacchi, associate director of marketing alliances and branded entertainment at GM: "We try to find properties where the cars are the stars, and literally our cars are the stars of this movie. You don't get any more heroic than the roles that our four vehicles play."

Often roles this big require brands to spend millions of dollars in integration fees in addition to millions in TV ads and other cross-promotional activity, but GM only had to supply two vehicles for each brand starring in the movie, though it did spend millions in promotions. It also built two Camaros especially for the film since the vehicle is not for sale yet and is based on a concept car Bay saw last year at an auto show. GM provided dozens of other vehicles for background use in the movie.

"Michael saw the new Camaro at the 2006 auto show and immediately fell in love with it and wanted it for Bumblebee," Bernacchi said.

Bay's long-standing relationship with GM also led to the car manufacturer's role in the movie's spotlight. GM has supplied vehicles for several of Bay's movies, including about 80 for "Bad Boys II," and Bay directed spots for Chevy earlier in his career.

Bernacchi said that whatever GM spent on the promotions and the vehicles "pales in comparison" to the benefits GM is getting, not just from being featured in a blockbuster film but also in the "Transformers" video game and appearing as toys from Hasbro as well as in all ancillary marketing surrounding the movie.

"Whatever the cost was, it was a small investment for the big exposure and opportunity we're embarking upon right now," Bernacchi said. "This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

EBay also plays a role in the film's story line when a key item goes up for sale on the auction Web site. Additionally, eBay is integrating "Transformers" into its home page for two days in its biggest movie tie-in. Although eBay has featured rich media ads on its home page, it never has changed its home page as part of a cross-promotional deal with a Hollywood studio or any other third party.

"This is unprecedented," said Kimi Kokka, director of marketing partnerships and promotions at eBay. "We've never integrated content into our home page before. We're changing the look and feel of the home page and the technology around it for those two days." She said the "Transformers" takeover scheduled for Thursday and Friday was not based on an ad buy but was part of eBay's promotional partnership with Paramount.

"EBay has never done a movie promotion like this," Stables said. "They're doing things for us that money can't buy." The site also will auction off key props and memorabilia related to the movie, starting Thursday. In addition, it has created a special "Transformers"-themed microsite that links to all "Transformers" merchandise for sale on eBay.

Kokka said that eBay decided to embark on the promotional partnership mostly because of the organic integration of eBay in the film. "It started with the creative integration in the story line, and from there we just built upon it to see how we could make it come to life on eBay as well as on the big screen. Opportunities like this just don't come along, which is why we're doing such a deep marketing partnership with Paramount."

In another rare move by Paramount, Bay directed commercials for tie-in partners GM, Burger King and PepsiCo's Mountain Dew.

There appears to be an increasing willingness among top film directors to helm tie-in partners' spots and a growing push by studios to encourage them to do so, but it still is rare to see a top Hollywood director helm spots for advertisers let alone for three different tie-in partners on one movie. For GM alone, Bay directed five different commercials.

"Having the director of the film involved in the production of the partners' promotional spots ensured the spots were in sync with the tone of the film," Stables said. "No one could possibly know the flavor of the movie better than the director himself, so it was a perfect match."

Stables said the Mountain Dew promotion also is significant, with "Transformers" graphics and logos plastered on 850 million packages of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and other PepsiCo beverage brands and a custom TV spot that Bay shot and directed.

"I just think this is a huge promotion for Pepsi," she said. "This is probably one of the biggest if not the biggest beverage promotion for any film this summer."

Mountain Dew also has a minor placement in the movie, which features a shot of a Mountain Dew vending machine. The placement and promotion stemmed from Pepsi's placement and entertainment marketing agency Davie-Brown Entertainment providing product for the crew and set, Stables said.