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A BMW SUV Gets a Supporting Actor Role


Tom Hardy in Locke

Photograph by A24 via Everett Collection

Tom Hardy in Locke

Locke, an independent film starring Tom Hardy, earned rave reviews this weekend, when it hit a few U.S. theaters. The indie offering is part drama, part thriller, and 100 percent BMW (BMW:GR) ad. The entire 85-minute film takes place in the company’s X5 SUV—the souped-up M model, to be specific.

The film is about infidelity unraveling the life of a hard-working family man—not necessarily a sunny association for couples heading out to make a splashy car purchase. But the truck literally carries Hardy through his crisis in a cocoon of sleek and soothing technology. The hands-free entertainment system, in particular, is cast in a strong supporting role, as Hardy’s protagonist cycles through a stream of phone calls to his wife, children, and business partners.

Rocky marriages, tense professional negotiations, BMW’s Bluetooth can handle it all.

BMW X5Courtesy BMWBMW X5

A big step beyond product placement, this is what Hollywood producers and marketing folks call “product integration”; when the commercial hook is much more than a passing can of Coca-Cola. And in the car business, it’s certainly not rare (see: Bullitt/Mustang, The Italian Job/Mini, and Goldfinger/Aston Martin).

BMW didn’t get back to us about how it managed to get its super SUV on the silver screen. We imagine a bit of money changed hands, though director Steven Knight seems to have already been a fan of the car. In a video on BMW’s YouTube feed, he notes that he used to own an X5. He said the model was a natural choice because it fit the character, a successful engineer who oversees commercial building projects. “This is a vehicle that’s going to go on construction sites and also go on the road,” Knight said. “It just made sense.”

The X5 was also big enough to accommodate three movie cameras. “It just meant that we had a little bit of a fighting chance in terms of getting some sort of perspective and space onto it,” he said.

The movie marketing could not come at a better time for BMW. The German automaker is doubling capacity at its South Carolina SUV plant. And although the company is doing a brisk trade and once again leads the luxury segment worldwide, its X5 has been a bit of a laggard recently. In the U.S. last year, X5 sales declined 10.4 percent, in part because BMW shifted customers into its smaller X1 and its hulking X6 “activity coupe.”

Even the new X5 that came out last fall is taking a while to get up to speed. Sales from November—when the new model hit dealerships—through March, were down 18 percent, although they showed some signs of life last month. Maybe the ending won’t be so tense after all.

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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