For a series of Batman movies that takes itself so seriously, it's a surprise to see it right there so prominent as one of only five menu items on the official The Dark Knight Rises website: "Imported From Gotham City."
The Dark Knight Rises has a number of other official partners. There is Nokia (remember them?) and No Fear (remember them?) and Mountain Dew, which features at the core of its tie-in "Sad Batman." But none of these brands even get a mention on the film's official website, let alone being featured on the site navigation.
It seems that the heavyweight "Imported from Detroit" campaign, which debuted with Eminem at the 2011 Super Bowl and was reborn with Clint Eastwood at the 2012 Super Bowl, is now so ingrained in the American psyche that it's worth lampooning. But the first rule of auto product placement is "be serious." Be so, so serious.
"As the spot unfolds, an elite team of mechanics and machinists transform the vehicle with a Matte Black exterior, stealth body panels, advanced weapon systems and a jet engine. It's a Chrysler 300 that’s been 'Imported from Gotham City.'" That's the introduction to The Dark Knight Rises tie-in campaign, which includes the TV commercial and a Facebook contest, as written on the Chrysler blog.
A Chrysler spokesperson told brandchannel that the special edition Chrysler 300 will be in the film, out in a month, but added, "To what extent, we are not able to disclose right now." The Detroit Free Press reports that "The car, which has the license plate DK-300S, is driven by a government official in the movie, but not by Batman."
Within branding circles, however, many believe that spoofing or punning one's own positioning is a major no-no. While tempting, and an easy attention-getter, the move erodes the brand's position.
While the outcome in Chrysler's case is yet unknown, the "Imported from Gotham" gambit does risk opening the door to winking at a message that, in an era of advertising comedy, began as perhaps the most dramatic and seriously resonant campaign in memory. It had guts, passion and a local spokesman in Emenem. It punched viewers in the face, in a good way. Think about it, what would the Eminem of the original "Imported from Detroit" ad say to an ad man who pitched a spoof tie-in to Batman?
A brand that learned this recently was Acura with its confusing messaging for its Avengers tie-in. In the films, Acura was the go-go car for the good-guy agency SHIELD. And in the final scene of The Avengers, Acura also pulled off a coup to become the hot ride of Tony "Iron Man" Stark.
But then the tie-in campaign for The Avengers was played for laughs with a joke about a GPS mapping system.
What's more, by pulling audiences away from the real product — the ad features a Chrysler 300 with jet boosters and missiles — the brand is essentially offering a model of its product that is better than what's available on the lot. (Chevrolet Camaro got away with its "transforming" Bumblebee ad only because the automaker actually produced a special-edition Transformers Camaro.)
It's not as if Chrysler doesn't understand the rules of auto product placement. Last year Dodge had one of the most successful, high profile tie-ins in memory with the Dodge Charger's role in Fast Five. The cars (also with a "matte black exterior") stole the whole last quarter of the film by, quite literally, stealing. The placements were serious, highlighted the real-life automobiles and took themselves so seriously.
The "Imported from Detroit" 300 is essentially a concept car, but not nearly as high concept as Chrysler's other summer offering. In August, the highly anticipated, though likely unnecessary, remake of Total Recall will hit screens with Dodge as the badge of the cop car of the future.
The 300 placement could turn out to be a hit, making tinkering with the brand's Imported from Detroit positioning all worthwhile. It certainly seems to have more potential than the Total Recall role. Just ask Acura (Minority Report) and Audi (I, Robot) about the limitations of placing concept cars in films.
Though, to be fair, everything Chrysler has going at the movies this summer is already a massive improvement over the Dodge "Fanstasticar" tie-in to the Fantastic Four of a few years ago.