Robots in disguise boost GM profile

Survey: 'Transformers' car characters more popular than human stars

From the outset, General Motors was thrilled with the starring roles that director Michael Bay orchestrated for four of its vehicles in his summer blockbuster "Transformers" despite some media and blogger criticism that the integrations went too far and served as commercials for the carmaker.

Now with the release of market research data from GM on the impact of its placement in the film, it appears there was indeed little consumer backlash against the integrations, which were widely considered among the highest profile and most significant film roles for an auto manufacturer, or any advertiser, for that matter.

According to the market research, Autobot Bumblebee, who spent much of the film as a Chevy Camaro, was the film's favorite character, beating Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox and even Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Ninety-four percent of moviegoers surveyed rated their opinion of Bumblebee as excellent or very good, compared with 91% for Optimus Prime, 83% for LaBeouf, 82% for Fox and 69% for Jazz, Ratchet and Ironhide — played by a Pontiac Solstice, a Hummer H2 and a GMC Topkick, respectively, that transform into Autobots.

"This is one of those rare instances when our product was actually a key character in a movie," said Dino Bernacchi, associate director of marketing alliances and branded entertainment at GM. "(The survey) shows the power of what this movie was and what it did for us."

The data, compiled by an independent market research firm based on interviews with 1,350 U.S. moviegoers before and after seeing the film in theaters, demonstrated that respondents were 70%-90% more likely to consider purchasing the Camaro, Solstice, Hummer H2 and GMC Topkick after seeing "Transformers." And moviegoers' opinions of the GM vehicles also shot up drastically, with a 144% improvement in their opinions of the Solstice — which has only been on the market since 2005 — and a 72% improvement in audience views of the Camaro.

"Opinion and consideration (to purchase) are probably the two hardest metrics to move in the automotive category," Bernacchi said. "With a movie that isn't a hard-core selling of a product, those two measures are even harder to move. If we can move the needle for opinion and consideration, that's remarkable."

The market research, requested by The Hollywood Reporter, also found that 50% or more of moviegoers questioned were more likely to research the vehicles in the film by going online or visiting a dealership.

But despite the positive data, GM could not show a correlation between its starring roles and increased auto sales. GM sales were up 2.7% in August-October compared with the year-ago period.

"There's infrequently that immediate translation to sales (for big-ticket items like cars)," Bernacchi said. But he noted that 180,000 people have registered for updates on the new Camaro compared with about 15,000 before the film was released.

The starring roles did help GM accomplish one of its most difficult tasks: improving its brand cachet, or hip factor, in the eyes of consumers.

With record sales of the "Transformers" DVD — released last month — on the heels of a worldwide boxoffice tally of more than $700 million, the marketing benefits of the GM integrations are likely to become even greater. And what about "Transformers 2"? Bernacchi said he couldn't comment on any future deals but added that GM hopes to reprise its starring roles in the sequel.