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For GM, the stars are the cars

Automaker hopes 'Transformers' lures younger set to showrooms

DETROIT -- Posters outside theaters across the country list Jon Voight, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, and Megan Fox as the stars of the summer action flick "Transformers."

But in the labs and cubicles where General Motors Corp. workers design and market new cars, the true leads are the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Solstice, GMC TopKick, and Hummer H2.

"You're going to see these cars as the heroes. You're not going to see the other actors," said Dino Bernacchi, GM's associate director of branded entertainment. "These cars are the stars, literally, in the movie."

GM, which long has sought to reach younger car buyers to so-so results, is hoping to draw the 18-to-34 set to its showrooms thanks to the company's oversized presence in the film and in the accompanying toys and video games.

The Detroit auto giant is spending millions to promote and market its "Transformers" tie-ins, but wouldn't give a figure. With a shrinking US automotive market and amid stiff competition from overseas rivals, GM is banking on the exposure translating into sales.

"This is hopefully a discovery point for maybe some of those who didn't know the great design, the great-looking vehicles that we have out today," Bernacchi said. "I find it really difficult to believe that a global blockbuster movie like this that has so many merchandising components to it that we're not going to get incremental exposure."

"Product placement has never been so blatant, and the potential for a global platform to build brand awareness could not have come at a better time for GM," said David Koehler, a clinical marketing professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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