Why Did Lamborghini Give Marvel a Huracán to Destroy in Dr. Strange?
In the latest Marvel Comics film, Doctor Strange, the titular character is a wealthy neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car crash and who, in his quest to regain their function, gains the mystical powers that make him a superhero. The crash is therefore a key plot point. And thus an important product placement opportunity.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have their Acuras, Iron Man has his Audi R8. So what does Steven Vincent Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) drive during his harrowing and life-altering wreck? A 10-cylinder, wedge-shaped, screaming hunk of menace: the $237,250 Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4.
This makes perfect sense for the character. “I do believe that there are a lot of characteristics of Doctor Strange that are connected with the Lamborghini philosophy,” says Lamborghini's chief executive officer, Stefano Domenicali. “Doctor Strange is a special guy, because he discovers when he was so young that he had a super power. He’s a leading guy in the world of technology. He is of course very ambitious—he wants to be seen as a top performer. He’s basically pure, and cutting edge, and visionary. These are the values that we have at Lamborghini.”
It’s thus seemingly logical to see Doctor Strange in a Lamborghini. But is it similarly sensible to see a Lamborghini in Doctor Strange? Especially since the car’s crash is such a key moment in the film?
Short answer: yes.
In an increasingly segmented marketplace, contemporary ultra-luxury and super-performance marques such as Bugatti, Aston Martin, Bentley, and McLaren have been turning away from attending mass-market events, placing their emphasis on more elite and focused opportunities where they’re more likely to encounter actual buyers. To this end, all these brands—Lamborghini included—forwent hosting a display stand at the September Paris Motor Show, the kickoff to the annual globetrotting car convention circuit, but they were all immensely present at the August Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, one of the premier gatherings of high-net-worth/automotive-immersed consumers in the world.
“Ultra-auto brands taking the super exclusive approach and going where the real customers are,” explains Milton Pedraza, CEO of market research and consulting group Luxury Institute.
So why would a recherché and exotic brand such as Lamborghini, with limited marketing budget and footprint, choose to invest its energies in a blockbuster superhero movie aimed mostly at kids?
“In a world where young people are not so interested in buying cars, they are very interested in, and indeed attracted by, our cars. Because they are different,” says Domenicali. “They see our cars to be super, which is a key differentiator in terms of being seen as special.”
A Bigger Lamborghini
To reach these aspirational consumers better, the boutique brand is planning for significant growth. With the release of the forthcoming Urus SUV in 2018, the automaker is hoping to double its global sales. “Remember that Lamborghini is trying to expand its volume base with an SUV so it may be that they desire significant brand awareness right now,” Pedraza says. “The Huracán can create a design-plus-performance halo for the entire brand, and the movie route is a great fit for communicating that message.” (Lest you think this expansion is going to turn Lamborghini into Ford, know that total annual global production is projected to increase from just 3,500 to 7,000 vehicles each year, or about the number of F-150 pickups sold every few days in the U.S.)
Also, it turns out action movies and entertainments like them are a pretty good means to reach high net-worth individuals. According to the massive emotional and lifestyle survey data set assembled by automotive research firm Strategic Vision, while elite car buyers may enjoy hosting parties and world travel twice as much as mainstream (BMW, Mercedes) luxury buyers, they enjoy going to the movies at rates similar to those who end up in mass-market vehicles, and they’re almost three times more likely to enjoy playing an action video game on a PS4 or Xbox. “In short, please don't discriminate against the supercar customer simply because they have money,” says Strategic Vision's president, Alexander Edwards. “They want to be a superhero too.”
How Movies Speak to Us
Some of the deeper reasoning behind this desire is revealed more deeply in Edwards’s data. “When we escape into the stories of movies, we look for versions of our ‘Ideal Self,’” he says. “Although it doesn't usually happen at a conscious level, we often compare our self-perception to that of our ideal self. The gaps that emerge, we try to fill with things that can help us obtain the ideal. A vehicle often fills that gap. So while I may not be a superhero, when I drive my Audi, I can be Tony Stark. In essence, these vehicles are more than a sidekick, but something that completes the hero.”
Of course, this doesn’t exactly explain the desirability, from a marketing perspective, of the seemingly disastrous correlation between the Huracán and its key plot point in the film, which involves the vehicle being totaled in a wreck. Lamborghini CEO Domenicali has an interesting spin on that. “Despite the fact that the crash was so massive, two main things: First, Doctor Strange was able to be alive after—certainly we don’t forget the safety of the car. And secondly, it was able, for him, to be the turning point of his life. So therefore we can connect to the fact that we are also on his side in a life-changing moment.”
The seemingly infinite nature of the Marvel franchises suggest that this life-altering integration could potentially continue beyond this one appearance. When asked if Dr. Strange might drive another Lambo in a sequel, Domenicali responds enthusiastically.
“He’s a visionary man, he has to drive a Lamborghini in the future,” he says. “Maybe an Urus?”