'Secrets' keeps Mercedes deal going

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 just 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 will be featured for about five to seven minutes in the film.

Lisa Holladay, manager of brand experience marketing for 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 its vehicles in the film at an early screening, it did decide 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 Thursday12/13, providing Mercedes vehicles to transport the talent to the premiere and after-party, 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 -- such as 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 at all 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 still 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 utilize 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 Disney.com, 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 mbusa.com and is providing its 330 dealers nationwide with DVDs featuring movie trailers, behind-the-scenes footage and an interview with Bruckheimer that can be viewed on showroom monitorsand inside the dealers' vehicles to showcase their entertainment systems. Some of the exclusive content also will be available on the Mercedes "Treasure" landing page.

"Secrets" opens Dec. 21.

Other promotional and/or prize partners for "Treasure" include the NHL, Odyssey marine exploration, the South Dakota and Washington tourism boards, the Library of Congress, Orbitz, Valpak coupons, the Scottish Rite Freemasons and out-of-home media network Ripple TV. Odyssey is awarding $50,000 in treasure to two winners of the online treasure hunt game every other week, and "Entertainment Tonight" is announcing the winners of the game, which ends with the film's opening Dec. 21.

Like co-sponsor Mercedes, Odyssey also is integrated in the online game, with players able to search for treasure by piloting Odyssey's remotely operated vehicle Zeus through the shipwreck site of the SS Republic, a Civil War-era steamship, or test their memory in sonar-themed puzzles.

The final details of the NHL's promotion have not yet been worked out, but spokeswoman Bernadette Mansur said the tie-in will involve using such NHL assets as jumbotrons and signage in its 30 arenas, on NHL.com and the newly launched NHL network. In addition, the NHL's Stanley Cup will be featured at some of the film's promotional events. For example, the Stanley Cup will be on hand in New York City Friday at the Clue Hunt finals, which begin at the skating rink in Bryant Park. The competition, which launched last week, involves six four-member teams competing for a trip around the world.

In addition, the NHL will be shooting a 30-second promo spot that may also feature the Stanley Cup. It will air during "Inside the NHL" on HDNet and the NHL network throughout North America, Mansur said. The NHL's national and regional rights-holders, including Canada's CBC and the Fox Sports Network, also will be offered the opportunity to run the promo spot during NHL games, she said.