1977 was a great year for blockbuster movies. Saturday Night Fever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course, Star Wars: A New Hope. Another top-grossing movie in 1977 was Smokey and the Bandit. Smokey and the Bandit had an all-star cast; Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields and Jackie Gleason. The movie centers on a Coors Beer run that two buddies (Bandit and Cledus) have to make in 28 hours, from Georgia to Texas, and back to Georgia.
But the scene-stealer in this movie wasn’t an actor, it was an automobile. The logistics of making a round trip from Georgia to Texas in 28 hours meant that Cledus (who would drive the truck hauling the beer) would have to drive faster than the speed limit to make the trip on time. Obviously, that meant Cledus needed a way to evade the police.
That’s where the Bandit came in. The Bandit drove a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am. The Bandit would draw all the attention from the police to him, clearing a path for Cledus to drive unencumbered. Bandit is the perfect driver for a flashy and fast sports car designed to draw attention. In one scene Sally Fields’ character Carrie asks Bandit what he does:
Bandit: “I go from place to place, and do what I do best.’
Carrie: “What’s that?”
Bandit: “Show off.”
As you can see, Bandit’s Firebird Trans-Am was one of the stars of the movie. And its presence had an immediate impact on Trans-Am sales. “We could have our whole front line full with Trans Ams. It was a big car for us,” said Art Douglas, 61, of Jim Douglas Auto Sales on Baldwin Avenue in Pontiac, which his father founded in 1975. “The movie made the car popular, really more with non-car people. I mean, that car was hot.” “When it all comes together with the actor, the car, the script and that moment in pop culture? For an automaker that’s better than advertising,” McElroy said. “When you hit that magic, and a car becomes a star, wow, it can really help sales.”
Most product placements, whether its in a movie or television series, really aren’t that effective. Typically, the placement is for a product that’s in the background and really contributes nothing to the plot or story of the film or show. Smokey and the Bandit was completely different in that the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am MADE the story. Without that automobile, there’s no plot. The Trans-Am made the story, and made it better, and made it cooler. This is what great product placements always do, the product plays a role, that isn’t forced, and makes the scene or larger show better.
Yesterday when I talked about the three types of content you could create for your customers, one of those types was ‘inspirational’ content. If you think about it, the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am was inspirational content. It showed us how cool it could be to own and drive a car like that. Note the above quote from the gentleman that owned a car lot when the movie came out, he said that the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am was a big hit with ‘non-car people’. In other words, people that didn’t really care about cars, cared about THAT car, because it had the ‘cool’ factor. Many of Apple’s products have that ‘cool’ factor due to impressive design and slick marketing.
So if your company wants to use product placements, or even if you want to sponsor digital content, think about how the placement or sponsorship can MAKE THE USER EXPERIENCE BETTER. This should always be the goal for your product placement or sponsorship. If it gets in the way, it gets ignored. But if it makes the scene, then it becomes ‘cool’ and desirable.