Porsche. Ferrari. Lamborghini. Bentley. Aston Martin. Rolls-Royce. Maserati These brands are symbols of status, power class and style. There’s a good reason we don’t see TV ads, print ads, or even online ads for these brands.
The reason is this: mass marketing and an elite image aren’t all that compatible. When your target market wants something no one else has, the exclusivity that makes your high-end brand desirable requires a different marketing approach.
So what is marketing like when you only produce a few thousand units annually and your least expensive model goes for half a million dollars?
It’s a different ball game, that’s for sure. That’s why product placement for luxury brands in the modern film and television industry can seem strange.
Speaking of strange … The title character in Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange” (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) drives (and crashes) a Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4, a 10-cylinder machine worth more than a half million dollars. The film (still in theaters) was one of the biggest hits of the last few months.
Lamborghini gave the filmmakers six Huracáns to “play with.” The stunt team and special effects teams got two each. They also had two more for Dr. Strange to “destroy” for the camera.
Why would a high-end luxury Italian sports car manufacturer want product placement in a Hollywood blockbuster? What could they possibly have to gain?
Lamborghini said that they felt “there are a lot of characteristics of Doctor Strange that are connected with the Lamborghini philosophy.” Their marketing effort wasn’t confined to the on-screen shots of their beautiful cars; at the world premiere of the film, Marvel mastermind Stan Lee posed next to the Huracán on the red carpet. Lamborghini’s CEO released a statement saying “Lamborghini was unquestionably the perfect fit for this project, as the Huracán naturally unleashes one’s inner superhero. The unique story of this new kind of hero mirrors that of the raging bull’s visionary founder Ferruccio Lamborghini; a man capable of creating cars that induce dreams in those who see them and thrills in those who drive them.”
Ok. Frankly, that sounds like PR bull… So what’s the REAL reason a brand like Lamborghini thinks it should market its cars in a big motion picture blockbuster?
In consumer marketing, at the heart of every brand strategy, you will find the concept of positioning. Every classic brand has to specify its positioning, and then convey it through its products, its services, its price, its distribution and its communication.
Positioning is the difference that creates the preference for a given brand, For luxury automobiles, the position is that they offer you (the consumer) a way to express your good taste and put your creative identity out there into the world. Luxury makes the bold statement “this is what I am.” A car like the Huracan lets you “unleash your inner superhero” (or so they want you to think).
So how does Hollywood fit in with this positioning?
Brands like these won’t promote a car in a movie just to sell more cars, at least not directly. They know that millions of young people at the start of their financial lives will see this movie and be inspired. They’ll be awed by the brand. After watching the movie, they will view the brand with that same sense of awe for years to come.
Again, exclusivity is a big selling point for the luxury automobile makers. But these days, they’re all owned by large corporate conglomerates. Could it be that the huge companies are pushing their luxury brands to market themselves the same way Ford, Chevy and Toyota market themselves?
Not a chance. True, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (Maserati’s parent company), Volkswagen Group (Bentley and Lamborghini) and BMW Group (Rolls-Royce) all benefit from the strong profits generated by their ultraluxury subsidiaries. But these large industrial conglomerates know that luxury brand management is a unique creature.
These high-end vehicles are rarely cross-shopped against one another, for example.
“Our competition is a chalet in the Swiss Alps, a beautiful piece of art or a watch,” Mueller-Oetvoes of Rolls-Royce says.
Someone who buys one of these cars doesn’t buy because he or she needs a car. The function of luxury brands is to create dreams, not to answer to problems and needs. Luxury is a non-necessity made desirable: it offers the buyer”promotion emotions” (self-elevation, pleasure, and recognition), not “prevention emotions” (risk reduction, absence of a problem and discomfort). Promotion emotions lead to excitement and happiness. Prevention emotions lead to security, comfort, and satisfaction.
Millions of people saw “Dr. Strange” in the last few months and associated the Lamborghini brand with self-elevation, pleasure, recognition and excitement. Very few (if any of them) are going to rush out and buy one. But the mass perception the brand enjoys is now in place for years to come, and you can bet that it will influence someone’s decision down the road.