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The Best and Worst of Automotive Product Placement

Automotive product placement is a big part of the big screen. From Hondas drifting through Tokyo in the Fast and the Furious to the Dukes of Hazzard crashing their Dodge Charger through fences and barricades in the south, cars and trucks have played a big role in TV and movies for years.

Sometimes the placement works. Sometimes, it doesn't. For fun, we took a look at the three best and three worst vehicle placements in television or movie history. Factors include the success of movie, cleverness of ad placement (in other words, not blatant or painful) and the swag factor of vehicle/actor driving it.

3 Best Vehicle Placements

1. Gran Torino (1972 Ford Gran Torino)
Anytime you can name the movie after a car — and get away with it — you're doing something right. In this 2008 action movie, Clint Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, a racist widower who loves his 1972 Gran Torino, a car Ford produced for the North American market between 1968 and 1972. When Kowalski catches a young teenager trying to steal his prized car (Kowalski had the muscle version and kept it in tip-top shape), he tries to reform the youth, who was pressured into the theft by his gang member cousin. Kowalski turns over a new leaf and defends his turf and the teen in typical Eastwood style (read: shooting guns at people). Ford gets great product placement in this movie because the car sees a lot of screen time, but the brand isn't forced down viewers' throats.

2. Jack Reacher (1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS)
Another muscle car and another famous action hero. Tom Cruise steals an SS from a meth dealer and leads an overmatched 2006 Audi A6 on a classic high-speed chase. Gearheads will recognize the large “SS” on the front of the car and also the V8 muscle that powers Cruise through Pittsburgh as he eludes authorities. He even did the driving himself. The movie itself is high on action and not so original on the plot (Cruise plays the stereotypical hired gun in the vein of Rambo or Jason Bourne) but the chase scene is epic and Chevy manages to slide its brand into the flick without much trouble.

3. Back to the Future Trilogy (DeLorean DMC-12 sports car)
Marty McFly's epic time-travel adventures made the DeLorean a household name. Who can forget Marty hustling away from Biff and slipping under the classic gull-wing doors to travel through time and space? The car was the only model the fledgling company produced. And while automobile industry executive John DeLorean's company went bankrupt (1975-1982) faster than you can say “flux capacitor,” Back to the Future put his car on the map for good. The car is mentioned by name often, but in a nuanced way that makes the viewer truly believe a DeLorean was built for time travel. It worked because the car is unique. You couldn't do the same with, say, a Chevy Camaro.

3 Worst Vehicle Placements

1. Heroes (Nissan Versa)
A very popular television series (although some felt the latter seasons left much to be desired) about regular people with superhuman abilities, Heroes didn't go overboard in quantity with product pitches. But when producers pushed products, they did so with very little subtlety. One of the main protagonists, or “Heroes,” of the series is a man named Hiro Nakamura who can travel through time and space by blinking his eyes. Hiro is obsessed with the Nissan Versa, which he wants to rent for a cross-country escapade. Hiro talks about the Nissan Versa so much, it's painful. Nissan successfully ingrained the name of the car into the minds of the general public, but they associated it with an otherwise interesting TV character who soon becomes annoying because of his Versa obsession. Annoying is not a quality you want to have in your advertising.

2. Transformers (2009 Chevy Camaro)
The 2007 Michael Bay blockbuster was essentially one giant car advertisement — and Chevrolet took full advantage of the opportunity to associate its Camaro with famous Transformer Bumblebee. Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf) is trying to impress his love interest, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), but she scoffs at the beat-up 1977 Camaro version of Bumblebee. While the couple is riding in Bumblebee, he scans a nearby car and suddenly transforms himself into a fancy new Camaro which was heavily featured throughout the rest of the movie. The placement itself increased sales for the 2009 Camaro (to be released two years later) but there had to have been a better way to sneak the fancy sports car into the film. It was a clumsy entrance.

3. Gone in 60 Seconds (Ford Mustang)
“Eleanor,” a customized 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback, stars alongside master auto thief Randall “Memphis” Raines aka Nicolas Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds. The car is sweet. The actor is not. This car makes the list simply because Nicolas Cage is a terrible actor whose presence behind the wheel of any vehicle immediately removes its cache. The Gone in 60 Seconds screenwriters didn't help him much, either. You think the Batmobile would have caught on if Bruce Wayne said “I am a baaaad man” while chasing the Joker? Here are more lines Cage uttered in his typical unconvincing fashion while sharing the set with poor Eleanor, who surely would have preferred to be driven by Cruise, Eastwood, or even Ben Affleck:

“I just stole fifty cars in one night! I'm a little tired, little wired, and I think I deserve a little appreciation!”

“Control, vision, determination. These are the three fundamental components of the new generation race car driver. Speed is a byproduct. Going fast. But remember: The car is you, you are the car. Okay? Let's ride!”

It's OK. I've got a good feeling my luck's about to change.”

Memphis also breaks off one of Eleanor's side mirrors and offers this gem: “It's just a scratch, Eleanor. It can be fixed.” The car? Yes. Cage's acting chops? Nope.

See Our Auto Resources

Do you have any awesome or terrible examples of vehicle placement in television shows or movies? Share them with us below. For a less tongue-in-cheek look at automotive advertising, check out the 9 Clouds Auto Resources page, where you can learn about anything from SEO to Google Adwords.