It’s every marketer’s dream. An Oscar-nominated director is going to put A-list actors in a major blockbuster movie about one of the proudest moments in your company’s history.
For 99.9% of brands, it will remain a dream forever (or at least until Tarantino directs DiCaprio in a gritty take on Oreo’s dunk in the dark). But it’s exactly what Ford has in James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale. The film, based on the 2009 book Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, by A.J. Baime, is a dramatization of the company’s drive to become the first American carmaker to win the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
In the telling here, Ford is the scrappy underdog fighting to overcome the racing giant Ferrari. Again, any marketer would be overcome with joyous flop sweats to have this.
In an era rife with bland, mediocre branded content, this is a unicorn situation.
Yet it’s one that Ford itself had almost nothing to do with. Aside from providing some archival material and information on the car, the brand was not involved in the film.
Ford’s director of North American marketing, Matt VanDyke, says the company is still excited about the movie but won’t be using it to market the brand, nor is there any promotional connection to the release of the film.
“There’s been a ton of buzz around our employees and dealers about it,” says VanDyke. “That race in 1966 was the cornerstone of Ford Performance and our racing program, so there’s incredible pride in that story, the engineering feat, and everything that made that happen. But it comes down to those words ‘based on a true story,’ so there’s always creative liberties and dramatic license to make the movie exciting. It’s not a documentary.”
That documentary already exists: Ford’s 2016 This Time Tomorrow, which was produced in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that first win.
The company also produced a five-part documentary series in 2016 chronicling its return to Le Mans, called The Return. It’s available on Amazon Prime. Ford won that race too.
For now, though, the brand is just basking in the glow of having its name on the marquee—and hoping it has a halo effect.
“Our hope is that the interest in this film will have people looking more into the history of this story of innovation and determination,” says VanDyke.
When contacted by Fast Company, Ferrari declined to comment on the film.