Sex and the City: Why the Car Is the Star in the Movie

It was a libidinous spring on the streets when the film version of HBO's Sex and the City TV series opened, with wall-to-wall analysis of the new adventures of Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha and that other one who asks dippy questions such as, "Can a woman be faithful to men and her Manolo Blahniks at the same time?" Not to be left out, here is one of the biggest male interests in the flick - apart from where Mr Big gets his suits made - namely why are all those Mercedes-Benzes in the film? How did the Germans steal the show so comprehensively?

"This film was a no-brainer," announces Ferdinand Froninghe, the man responsible for supplying sexy wheels for Sex and the City, the head of Mercedes's Entertainment Liason Office in Los Angeles. It turns out he's not talking about the quality of the script, but the existing sponsorship connection between Mercedes-Benz and the New York Fashion Show, which meant the film's producers needed help from Mercedes to replicate the authenticity of the real show.

"I first heard about the film in August last year," says Froning. "I've a friend who was a PR for the project and they wanted to work with us." Some might observe that Sex and the City is nothing but superficial froth, exploitative fashion and mindless titillation, but that's exactly its appeal. "OK, it's women talking about sex," admits Froning, "but that's an iconic part of life and the show's core audience is 30- to 45-year-old women, who are really hard to reach. There's also a huge hidden audience of men in there as well. It fits heavily into fashion and design, and our existing sponsorship as part of the brand communications."

Froning lives the life of a Hollywood pitcher, breakfasting over the trades, feasting on who's up and down, whose script just got optioned and whose project has stalled. Mornings are spent working the phones, to agents, studio fixers and a Runyonesque cast of shady characters that surround the movie business, and afternoons reading scripts.

"We wouldn't do anything without reading the script," says Froning. "We can never change a script, but when we have a good relationship we start to think creatively about how the placement can be worked, there are a number of wrinkles that can be used." In the case of Sex And The City, the script called for a recreation of the New York fashion show in Bryant Park, Manhattan, a feat that called for gentle finessing of the city authorities as well as persuading Mercedes in Stuttgart to reproduce all its product banners.

It took all of Froning's powers of persuasion to get Mercedes-Benz in Germany to see the sense in releasing a secret prototype onto the streets of New York, and to get the film's director to include this somewhat less than beautiful urban SUV. "It was great on set," says Froning. "The car was late so all we had was the prototype with the side mirrors just stuck on to it. We had 12 security people and they tried to keep the car hidden so that nothing would leak out, but at some point we had to take the covers off and film the scene."

The appeal to car makers of an automotive star in a movie is as strong as ever, but Froning reckons there are very few films that are right for automotive product placement and that's where the manufacturers meet head to head. He's still walking on air about his placement of the E-class on Disney's National Treasure II with Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger. It was filming in London last autumn and, needless to say, Froning was there. "That stunt co-ordinator, he shot the hell out of that car," he bubbles. In fact, the script called for the wrecking of six right-hand-drive E-classes.

Called upon to name successful product placement cars, Froning uncharacteristically dries up. He name-checks Three from the Gas Station (1930) with Lilian Harvey, The Rookie (1990) with Clint Eastwood, Jurassic Park (1993) and also gives a nod to BMW's series of films known as The Hire (2001) which were shown on the internet.

He isn't so impressed by the more traditional Bond-style associations with companies such as Ford and Aston Martin. "If you are too blatant, the audience will realise it is a commercial. You have to trust the director and the creative people."

Source: Telegraph Motoring


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