When James Bond began saving the world 40 years ago, he did it in a customized, bulletproof, tire-piercing Aston Martin.
These days an Aston Martin Vanquish costs a cool $235,000, and you don't see them on the interstate too often.
But in the new film Terminator 3, Arnold Schwarzenegger drives a Toyota Tundra — a $25,000 pickup truck that regular people might very well buy.
The problem for Toyota is that the regular people who visit their showrooms are mostly over 40. Their buying habits and brand loyalties are set; they've probably bought Toyotas before. To survive, the company needs to attract new customers — younger ones.
But today's young adults will not sit through a 30-second commercial, whether it's for a car or anything else. They've been bombarded with promotions all their lives, and they fight back by channel-surfing.
So companies like Toyota have trouble on their hands. Market research shows members of Gen-X and Gen-Y think of Toyotas as nice, well-built … and a little dull.
"They're trying to help reposition the brand so that younger people will say, 'Boy, Toyota's dependable, reliable, kind of bulletproof quality — maybe they're actually cool as well,' " said Wesley Brown, a market analyst for the research firm NexTrend.
Action Movies Top List
So with greater urgency than ever before, the major auto makers are trying to place their products in the right movies. Action blockbusters are at the top of the list:
The Matrix Reloaded this spring featured the Cadillac CTS, an angular, high-tech version of a brand that General Motors has been trying to liven up. In Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Angelina Jolie will put a lot of miles on a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The film is due for release July 25. Miramax Films (which, like ABCNEWS, is a division of The Walt Disney Co.) plans to remake The Green Hornet in 2005. It has begun to offer auto companies the right to supply the hero's car. According to Advertising Age, the winning bid will likely top $35 million.
In a crowded marketplace, auto companies are willing to pay big money as never before.
"The payoff for us is that millions of people, our target customers, will be seeing this movie," said Deborah Wahl Meyer of Toyota at the premiere of Terminator 3. "We think it's even better than a commercial."
"You can have your product prominently displayed in a very good way," said analyst Brown, "with an audience that can't get up and leave."
Does all this pay off in sales? Actually, no — well, not immediately. Marketers say the benefit comes more slowly, as enhanced image.
Perhaps that's why, after trying almost-affordable BMWs for a while, James Bond is back in an Aston Martin — in a deal with the British carmakers' new owners, Ford.