Mercedes rides shotgun in 'Secrets'

Auto line finds free placement from relationship with Bruckheimer

In Disney's upcoming "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," Mercedes-Benz seems to have cashed in on a treasure of its own — two chase scenes in which its vehicles are driven by the film's stars that did not require the integration fees or major media buys typical of such high-profile brand roles.

Mercedes' newly designed 2008 C-Class sedan, which went on sale in the U.S. in August, is featured for several minutes in the film's main chase scene, with Nicolas Cage behind the wheel. It is, according to Mercedes, the largest chase scene ever filmed in London. The company's GL-Class SUV is used in another chase scene that takes place in Washington. Combined, Mercedes believes its vehicles are featured in the film for about five to seven minutes.

Lisa Holladay, manager of brand experience marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA, said the integration stemmed from the automaker's long-term relationship with the film's producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, who owns several Mercedes vehicles.

However, once Mercedes saw footage of the film at an early screening, it decided to sponsor an online game on the "National Treasure" Web site titled "The World's Biggest Treasure Hunt" — in which the C-Class also is integrated — and to provide the game's grand prize, a fully loaded C-Class sports sedan signed by Bruckheimer and Cage. It also signed on to sponsor the film's New York premiere Thursday, providing Mercedes vehicles to transport the talent to the premiere and afterparty as well as supplying vehicles for the film's Clue Hunt taking place in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Clue Hunt is an interactive game tied to the film that allowed teams to compete in a real-world scavenger hunt. Mercedes also paid the costs of transporting and outfitting six C-Class and two GL-Class vehicles for filming — all eight of which were destroyed during production.

"When we did see the placement — which is really what we call 'hero placement' of the vehicle because the placement is so good — we decided to go forward with a full-scale marketing activation program against the movie," Holladay said.

But unlike other auto manufacturers — including Volkswagen, which spends more than $13 million a year, mostly on marketing and promotion, just for the right to be integrated in Universal films, or General Motors, which spent millions on TV spots and other media to support its vehicles' starring roles in "Transformers" during the summer — Mercedes bought no media to promote its high-profile integration, nor did it pay any integration fees.

"Knowing how much auto manufacturers spend to have products placed in films, we feel like we're in a very lucky position to have great placement in this movie based on our relationship with Jerry Bruckheimer," Holladay said. "Part of that is obviously because of the brand, but we also are very aware that it probably will not be that way forever, so we're taking advantage of that. We really work on maintaining relationships with the Jerry Bruckheimers of the world who have enough control and power that if they want a manufacturer in a movie, it's going to happen regardless of the dollar amount. But we do realize it's a very rare thing in this day and age."

Holladay declined comment on how much Mercedes is spending on its online game and other sponsorships, but it is believed to be far less than most major promotional partners spend on TV ads and other marketing support for tentpole films. Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films also declined comment.

Holladay said that despite the lack of media buys, the promotion is Mercedes' biggest ever with an entertainment property.

In the online game, players are able to drive the Mercedes C-Class in car chases and scavenger hunts or use its Mercedes-branded navigation system to play a puzzle game in virtual replicas of London and New York, the two cities Mercedes is sponsoring in the "Treasure Hunt" game.

"We're trying to reach customers in a different way," Holladay said. "For our C-class audience, which is younger than any other Mercedes-Benz buyer, we wanted to do something that was more about creating interaction with the brand rather than simply having consumers view another television ad. With the online co-branding we have with the movie on, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, we're looking at about 90 million impressions. So for us, that was significant." She said this is Mercedes' first venture into online gaming.

Mercedes also has created a "National Treasure" landing page that lives on and is providing its 330 dealers nationwide with DVDs featuring movie trailers, behind-the-scenes footage and an interview with Bruckheimer.

"Book of Secrets" opens Dec. 21.