Mars, Inc. may have made one of the biggest marketing blunders in history when they declined the opportunity to have M&Ms in the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. So, Hershey’s jumped at the chance to feature Reese’s Pieces as the lure that Elliot used on the alien. And over 35 years later, this still remains one of the most memorable and successful stories of cinematic product placement.

After the success of E.T. and Reese’s Pieces, product placement became serious business. All the big brands were fighting to be in top blockbuster films to capture the attention of their audience.

Fast forward to today, is product placement in Hollywood films still worth it? The short answer, yes. Because of the shift in digital, marketers can now take an awareness play and transform it into a lead generating marketing tactic.

So how did Cat® & TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT come together?

cat transformer logo

Caterpillar was preparing to introduce the most significant Cat excavator product launch in more than 20 years with their Next Generation Cat® Excavators. And they were looking for an innovative way to build awareness globally.

When discussing the possibility of partnering with TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, the global appeal, the timing, the brand characteristics were all there for a strategic product placement with high impact.

“When you look at the attributes associated with the TRANSFORMERS franchise—qualities like strength, loyalty and protection—they line up perfectly with the Caterpillar brand. Second, the Autobots take on the role of partners or allies who help the hero of the movie rise to the challenge. At Caterpillar, we view our partnership with our customers the same way.”  – Jessica Nunley, Global Marketing Innovation Manager, Caterpillar Inc.

Read more about it in Equipment World


Why It Was Successful

The goal of a movie appearance by a Next Generation Cat Excavator was to build brand awareness with a new, larger audience. The marketing campaign was designed to capitalize on the momentum of the movie launch, capture and engage target audiences, and carry their interest through to the formal product introduction that followed months later.

Key components of this holistic campaign included: videos, social posts, giveaways, downloads, marketing automation email campaigns and rolling webpage content updates.

And it worked.

Of the contacts captured through this campaign, over 90 percent were new to the marketing database—well surpassing expectations. Despite the movie leaving the big screen in July, engagement remained high through the campaign end in December. Although we can go into more detail about each tactic and the strategy behind it, here’s a glimpse at the overall metrics:

  • Average time on page: 2:30
  • Over 30,000 content downloads
  • Newsletter Signups: 7,313
  • Newsletter Unique Open Rate: 35%
  • Newsletter Unique Click-thru Rate: 8%

From our experience, product placement does work. But it takes the right alignment of brands, a strategic plan and a sophisticated team to work through the multitude of details needed.

With the right pieces in place, this marketing tactic that is traditionally know as an awareness play can be transformed into a lead generating tactic, offering a higher return on investment.