When you’re a celebrity but you have to hype the latest Ford Fusion.
If you’re heading to see Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 this weekend, you’ll see the Ford EcoSport making a small (and I mean very small) appearance in the final third of the movie. It’s pretty accepted these days that automakers work with film and television studios to show off their latest vehicles in blockbusters. Sometimes that works seamlessly – James Bond absolutely should drive an Aston Martin, right? – and other times it’s glaring as characters go to pained lengths to tout the virtues of their newest vehicle. That in mind, here are some of the best and worst examples of automotive product placement we’ve seen.
Of course, we know this list isn't exhaustive. Let us know in the comments section which on-screen car placements make sense, and which ones drive you mad.
Subaru in Portlandia
It seems only fitting for the crunchy, ultra-liberal stereotypes on IFC’s Portlandia to drive Subarus. The show has naturally and subtly slipped models like the Impreza into various episodes, and IFC even launched a web video series to further show off Subaru models. That the Subaru brand is very popular in the northwest of the country in real life only makes this placement seem less forced.
Audi R8 in Iron Man
Super-cool Tony Stark – also known as Iron Man – routinely rolls in an Audi R8 in Iron Man movies. The man has money and style, so we’re not surprised to see him driving Audi’s supercar; this is one marketing tie-in that seems to make all the sense in the world. Then again, Tony Stark has also had some other great rides, including...
Acura NSX Roadster in The Avengers
Wait, an Acura NSX roadster? That was our collective expression on seeing Tony Stark driving the wild concept car. It would be a while until the actual NSX hit roads, but it built some buzz around the idea of Acura relaunching its most iconic nameplate – and look at how much of the styling language carried over to the real car. At the time, the company would only say, “an Acura convertible sports car was created specifically for the film.”
Aston Martin DBS in Casino Royale
It’s sort of a given that James Bond, ultra-suave secret agent, drives an Aston Martin. (Ignore for now that time he had a BMW Z3…) So for Casino Royale, actor Daniel Craig got behind the wheel of a DBS – which had not actually been revealed at the time the movie launched. Of course, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing the DBS rolled and wrecked after Bond swerves to avoid hitting Vesper Lynd, but until then, the DBS was as much a star as Craig. More recently, for Spectre, Aston gave bond a DB10, a car that exists only in the movie world but closely previewed the DB11.
Audi RSQ in I, Robot
When Will Smith’s character needed a ride in I, Robot, he hopped aboard an Audi RSQ. The concept car was created specifically for the movie, with Audi’s signature grille design out front and could drive autonomously. Sure, it’s a very futuristic design, yet compared to some fanciful movie cars (see the Lexus listed below), the RSQ actually bears some resemblance to other Audi products. “Product placement is an integral part of our communication strategy,” Audi product placement boss Tim Miksche said in a 2004 press release. “We don’t pay cash to obtain product placements. We supply one or several cars for the actual shooting, and if necessary offer the film crew logistical and technical support.”
Chevrolet Camaro in Transformers
Whatever you think of the Baysplosion-filled Transformers franchise, the Chevy Camaro-turned-Bumblebee is a star. Before Chevy had even shown a production fifth-gen Camaro – though we’d seen concepts – Bumblebee hit the big screen as a muscle car that transformed into, uh, a Transformer. Plenty of other vehicles have starred in the franchise since, but Bumblebee’s arrival in 2007 was a great way to generate buzz… even if a new Camaro didn’t launch for another two years.
Ford Fusion in New Girl
Look, product placement is just a fact of life for many TV and movie producers. That doesn’t mean they have to like it. This clip from New Girl shows how you can highlight a product while still having a bit of fun with the entire idea of squeezing car advertisement into a TV episode.
Acura Crossovers in Thor
The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 2011 movie Thor drove Acura crossovers. But the cars were only visible in a few short scenes, during which the camera carefully panned over the cars’ Acura beaks and badges. It’s a little, uh, on the nose, and probably cost a huge amount for just a short amount of screentime. Acura also teamed up with The Avengers a year later, with the TL, MDX, ZDX, and RDX all making small appearances in the action packed adventure.
Ford Mustang in Knight Rider (2008 TV Series)
Cast your memory back to Knight Rider, with a young(er) David Hasselhoff fighting bad guys with help from KITT, his talking, self-driving Pontiac Trans Am. But when the show was rebooted in 2008, the producers instead decided to use a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR. In other words, a car that has nothing to do with the original KITT from the classic TV show. Here’s how The Hollywood Reporter described the two-hour pilot episode: “Subtle product placement is one thing, but in ‘Knight Rider’ it becomes so heavy-handed that it actually alters entire scenes … Meanwhile, the Mustang logo gets displayed so often, the movie almost qualifies as a western.”
Toyota in Modern Family
Just how pervasive is Toyota’s presence in the ABC show Modern Family? According to Ad Age, Toyota vehicles featured 16 times for a total of eight minutes of screen time in the show’s first season, with plenty more placements in later episodes, like the clip seen above. In 2014, a Toyota spokesperson told Automotive News that, “We brief the show’s creative and production teams at the beginning of the season on our new vehicles and their key features… Based on this information, the Modern Family team then integrates the product into the storyline at their discretion.”
BMW Z3 in GoldenEye
Unlike the 750iL featured in Tomorrow Never Dies, or the Z8 in The World Is Not Enough, the BMW Z3 that Bond drives in GoldenEye somehow doesn’t seem quite as fitting as other cars. There’s nothing wrong with the Z3, but it doesn’t present quite the same image as, say, a DB5. The car’s appearance is, however, credited with helping boost Z3 sales globally; the car launched only a few months before GoldenEye premiered. According to a 2001 Bloomberg story, BMW paid $25 million to get the Z3 in Bond’s hands. But we’d prefer to see the British super-spy at the helm of a British car.
Lexus in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Lexus does not currently offer any spaceships in its lineup. Nonetheless, the automaker has affixed its badge to the Skyjet in upcoming sci-fi movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Lexus says it worked with the production team for Luc Besson’s Valerian movie to create the “single-seat pursuit craft,” noting that it integrates the brand’s spindle grille design and, “an athletic and aerodynamic shape.” So, is this spaceship going to sell cars? That seems like a stretch. The Lexus 2054 concept from Minority Report is a much more appropriate exercise for a car brand.