Watching You Sleep: Power, Control, Obsession... and Edward Cullen

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , , | Posted on 12:19 AM

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Nobody was shocked when the Twilight Saga debuted at #5 on the American Library Association's (ALA) Top Ten list of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009.  In fact, if I could have predicted which book or series was to come out on top, I would have pinned the Vampire/Werewolf/Human love triangle to take the number one spot, simply based on its pandemic-like popularity.  However, the reasons behind why the series made the list in the first place are rather unsettling.

According to ALA, a challenged book is one in which there has been "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school, requesting that materials be removed or restricted because of content or appropriateness."  So what were the reasons Twilight was challenged?  The books are considered to be: a) sexually explicit, b) from a religious viewpoint, and c) unsuited to age group.  The shocking part?  Not once was Twilight specifically challenged for glorifying abusive relationships.

In her Twilight blog, "Yes, I Read It. It's Still Stupid," Rachel 'Vampirely' writes critical and analytical chapter recaps of the Twilight Saga (which she lovingly calls, "[Push Me Off a] Cliff Notes").  In one of her posts, she outlines the domestic abuse that occurs in the books by using the six tactics abusers use to exert their power from HelpGuide.org's "Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships."  By systemically leafing through the saga, she finds numerous incidents which correspond to the following abuser control tactics: dominance, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial and blame.

Now, as a mature university student I was able to take Edward's unsettling actions with a grain of salt.  Originally a Team Edward (after reading Twilight), I abandoned ship early and switched teams half-way through New Moon; Jacob seemed to be a little less clingy.  As a relatively new Team Jacob, I still looked at Edward's creepy and controlling actions with annoyance, and nothing more (after all, he did love Bella more than anything in the world).  However, a startling incident in Eclipse changed my mind: Edward became an abusive and obsessive boyfriend.  In Chapter Two: Evasion, Bella decides that her desire to visit Jacob in La Push is worth disobeying Edward's orders to stay put.  She tells her Dad she'll be driving to La Push and heads out towards her parked truck:
Like any fugitive, I couldn't help looking over my shoulder a few times while I jogged to my truck, but the night was so black that there really was no point. ... My eyes were just beginning to adjust as I shoved my keys into the ignition.  I twisted them hard to the left, but instead of roaring deafeningly to life, the engine just clicked.  I tried it again with the same results.  And then a small motion in my peripheral vision made me jump. ... Edward sat very still, a faint bright spot in the darkness, ... looking at the piece of my truck's engine as he twirled it in his hands. ... "I'll put your car back together in time for school, in case you'd like to drive yourself," he assured me after a minute. (Eclipse 61-64)
...and every woman who has ever been affected by abuse cringed.
The power and control that Edward exerts over Bella is no less than frightening, and author Stephenie Meyer makes no effort to convey to young female readers that this behaviour is wrong.  Instead, she ends the chapter with Edward pouting ("Shut your window if you want me to stay away tonight.  I'll understand.") and an infuriated Bella storming up to her room and slamming the window shut so hard that the "glass trembled."  Yet, Bella then immediately sighs as she "opened the window as wide as it would go."

This disturbing pattern of behaviour is one that is repeated throughout the entire saga.  Each story arc is painfully formulaic: Edward manipulates Bella, Bella forgives Edward.  To think that hoards of young twihards (some as young as seven years old) are seeing this type of domestic abuse being accepted and embraced by a supposedly strong female character is troubling.  The ALA should not be concerned with whether or not the Twilight Saga is sexually explicit (unless you consider a "leg hitch" to be scandalous), but whether the saga is normalizing the presence of domestic violence in relationships.

By the way, I'm still a die hard Team Jacob... because "it feels great to be free" (Eclipse 171).

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School Sucks! - How One University Professor is Revamping English Literature

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , | Posted on 11:03 PM

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Now here is a program we can all get sucked into (hehe)…

The University of Hertfordshire (UK) is organizing an Academic Vampire Literature Conference called “Open Graves, Open Minds; Vampires and The Undead in Modern Culture.”  The idea was inspired by a growing concern amongst a small group of academics that students are not likely to take interest in class lectures that do not reflect the interests of their generation.

Dr. Sam George, the brain behind the whole operation and vampire fiction enthusiast, hopes the two-day academic conference will “prove that you can study popular literature in a serious way” and make people aware that the study of “the undead at a higher level” can lead to interesting revelations about our contemporary society.  The conference, taking place on April 16-17 at Hertfordshire University’s de Havilland campus, has already attracted over 200 participants, and the call for papers has resulted in more than 100 academic submissions, of which only 70 have been selected to be presented as lectures.

Here is a taste of some of the planned lectures:
- “Sullied Blood, Semen, and Skin: Vampires and the Spectre of Miscegenation”
-“Who Ordered the Hamburger with AIDS?: Blood Anxiety in True Blood

The academic buzz surrounding the conference has also prompted Dr. George to launch, starting September 2010, the world’s first ever Master of Arts (MA) Degree program specializing in Vampire Literature.

In an age when the word ‘vampire’ seems to bring to mind sparkles before it does blood, it might come as a surprise to some that vampire fiction often reflects moral anxieties that are embedded in our contemporary culture.  Dr. George suggests, “our modern vampires are a metaphor for teenagers’ wider anxieties about their bodies and their first stirrings of desire” and also that “current vampires – like the eternally teenage Edward of Twilight – reflect the scientific debate about preserving youth and living forever.”

Speaking as a graduating university student myself, the incorporation of generationally-relevant content into university courses is critically important when it comes to a) the popularity/attendance of your classes, and b) the amount of students who will passionately engage in discussions and papers.  It’s time that more university professors take a page from Dr. George’s book and start revamping their archaic curriculum for the scholars of today.

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The Issue of Native (Mis)Representation in Twilight

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , , | Posted on 11:46 AM

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"So do you think we're a bunch of superstitious natives or what?" 
~ Jacob Black in Twilight

You’ve all heard about the conflict between vampires and werewolves in Twilight.  But, unless you’ve read the books or seen the movies, you might not be aware that the Wolf Pack is actually associated with the Quileute tribe of Native Americans.  Yes, the Quileute are a real people, whose native reservation occupies one square mile in La Push, Washington.  Stephenie Meyer’s storybook world of Twilight has Bella visiting Jacob Black on the La Push reservation for about 40% of the series (by my own estimation).  With all of this page and screen time devoted to ‘representing’ native culture and their community, you would think that the Hollywood and media machines would get a few things wrong.  Well, surprise surprise, they have.

In January 2010, MSN.com, while videotaping a Twilight virtual tour news-piece, infringed upon the native Quileute territory without permission by disrupting some ancient graves of esteemed tribal leaders.  Interestingly enough, the producers also filmed in the actual town of Forks, but this time they had the courtesy to actually ask the Chamber of Commerce if it was okay.  MSN.com has since apologized to the Quileute nation for trespassing uninvitedly on their land.

I have said it before and I will say it again: Western societies that are largely based upon colonial attitudes (and white privilege) seem to only ‘make space’ for Native-Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) when their culture is romanticized enough to be put on display (e.g. for hungry Twilight fans).  The Quileute are almost entirely excluded from any of the benefits that stem from the commercial cash cow that is the Twilight franchise, which is remarkable since their culture and people occupy an integral part of the infamous story world.  Every single day, busloads of rabid Twilight fans are taken onto the Quileute reservation (with no permission) for tours of the 'Twilight tribe', however the Quileute Nation does not receive any sort of compensation for this encroachment.  Meanwhile, half of Quileute families are currently living in poverty.  What adds a whole other dimension to this issue is that American copyright laws do not apply to indigenous peoples; in other words, in the eyes of money-making corporations, the Quileute’s stuff is up for grabs.  The Quileute Nation claims they were never contacted about the use of their traditional and cultural artefacts for merchandising purposes.

Another issue of representation occurs within the film itself.  The film franchise has claimed to have taken a “monumental step” in its casting of Native American actors and is therefore simultaneously acting to combat native misrepresentation by “shed[ding] many of the previous Hollywood stereotypes concerning indigenous tribes.”  However, there is controversy in the fact that the actors hired to play the roles of the Wolf Pack (Jacob Black, Sam Uley, Leah Clearwater, etc.) only discovered their native roots after they were cast.

Most controversial of all is the fact that young actor Taylor Lautner (who plays Jacob Black) has been appointed the poster boy of teenaged native heartthrobs.  And guess what?  He ain’t Native... (although his mother apparently has some ‘distant blood’ in her family lineage).

In a 2008 interview at ComicCon, Taylor Lautner discussed his first and only meeting with the actual Quileute tribe: “I was expecting something so much different than me, but the real thing is that [the Quileute] are just like me.”  Check out this video to see him talk about how Jacob Black’s “Native American side is very friendly and outgoing” but his “werewolf side is very fierce” (he also says that he “loves the contrast between the Native American side and the werewolf side”).  Yeesh.  Despite all of the controversy, the film is being heralded for “giving each [native] character their own personalities and traits” (as opposed to them all being the same?) and for “making it cool to embrace one’s indigenous roots.”

The cultural appropriation of indigenous peoples in North American society is an issue.  Despite this, the Native American cast of Twilight (and Justin Chon thrown in there: not Native…Korean) appears in the follow PSA for Shift the Power to the People, a sustainability group that encourages you to “be the shift” and empower people to make lasting and sustainable changes in their own communities.  Their current struggle (as of February 1, 2010) is to raise awareness about the severe ice storm that devastated the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe reservation.

Perhaps Twilight has brought an increasing level of awareness to Native American issues, but the way it has come about is deplorable.



p.s. And now for something completely different (and disturbing): Manllows!

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When it Comes to 3D Film, How Far is Too Far?

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , | Posted on 12:48 PM

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The enormous success of Avatar has arguably sparked the mainstreaming process of 3D filmmaking.  With this success, however, comes the inevitable question: how far is too far?  As the release date for the third installment in the Twilight franchise, Eclipse, draws nearer, the anticipation of the shooting of the final film, Breaking Dawn, is on every Twihard’s mind.  The highly controversial novel is set to begin its filmic transformation this coming fall, however, Summit Entertainment still hasn’t chosen a director, decided whether to split the movie into two parts, or confirmed whether or not it will be filmed in 3D.

While it might not sound too controversial right now, for anyone who has read the 700-page clusterfuck of a novel, the idea of bringing it to the big screen triggers some mixed feelings.  Let’s just say (and SPOILER ALERT) that no one wants to see Bella Swan give a violent birth to a bloody half-baby-half-vampire spawn that eats its way out of her stomach in some sort of reverse C-section, moreover, in 3D.  The idea is no less than revolting.

The cast of Twilight isn’t exactly onboard with the possibility of 3D either.  Kristen Stewart, who will be the one giving birth in the movie, told MTV, “No, I don’t think that should be [in 3D] … You don’t want Renesmee [the baby] to be scary.  You don’t want her to fly into your face.”  In addition to Stewart’s disapproval, heartthrob Robert Pattinson, the film’s Edward Cullen, says, “The 3D thing confuses me.  I haven’t seen Avatar or any of these 3D movie things yet.  The idea of it… I remember 3D movies from when I was a kid, and I can just picture it giving me a headache.”  Based on the well-attested fact that Twihards blindly follow the opinions of the actors they unrelentingly admire, it wouldn’t surprise me if a gigantic uprising of tweens will have Summit Entertainment shaking in their boots come decision time.  Then again, Summit also knows that fans will go see the film regardless of the decisions (including 3D) that are ultimately made:

“The pluses are obvious. […] The downside? The fans. Some are already begging Summit not to do it. But it’s highly unlikely that any will pass up the chance to watch the last few final strains of this teenage vampire-human-wolfman soap opera. Even if they decided to film it with puppets.”

Other possible obstacles for Summit Entertainment is the fact that the cast isn’t yet signed on for what could be Breaking Dawn – Part 2, and also author Stephenie Meyer’s contractual control over the story, casting, director, etc.

I personally feel that 3D technologies in films should be used sparingly, and in films (like Avatar) that actually warrant the visual effect enhancement.  Only time will tell if fans gets to see a bloody CGI baby bursting out of Bella’s stomach and into the audience.  Yuck.

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Verizon's 'Valemont': Twilight-Inspired Advertising

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , , , , | Posted on 11:46 PM

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Just when you thought it was safe to leave your coverage area…

Verizon Wireless is jumping on the vampire bandwagon in their new commercial and web series 'Valemont'.  Partnering with MTV.com, the cell phone company is sponsoring a new series of webisodes that feature an 18-year-old girl who suspects her brother has been murdered by a group of student vampires at her college (sound familiar?).

Starting on September 29th, the first 12 two-and-a-half-minute episodes will air on MTV in front of “The Hills” and the remaining 23 will be viewable on MTV.com and V-Cast Mobile.  The show has a strong social media aspect: viewers are encouraged to access additional content on their V-Cast Mobile, join the ‘Valemont University’ Flickr account, and follow the in-character Twitter accounts.  I was even shocked to discover that the series has its own IMDB page, so we know it’s legit.

In addition to the mini-series (although, I would be more inclined to call it an ‘itty-bitty-series’), Verizon is already airing a Twilight-inspired commercial to promote their company.  I must admit, this is a thoroughly enjoyable parody that will gain a lot of attention amongst Twihards. 

It’s obvious that Verizon did their research: the commercial location and cinematography is remarkably similar to one of the most famous scenes in Twilight; the Edward and Bella characters and their clothing undoubtedly replicated.

And hey, even Jacob Black has a scene-stealing cameo that will make all the wolf lovers (awooo!) proud.



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Breaking Into the Boys' Club: Female-Driven Blockbusters

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , | Posted on 12:32 AM

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With the phenomenal success of Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight in 2008, came a renewed interest in the gender-politics of Hollywood.  The film, with its relatively low-budget ($37 mil) and ‘independent’ feel, grossed over $384.9 million worldwide as droves of young women flocked to theatres, often seeing the film multiple times (and true twi-hard fans at least three or four…).  It seemed that young girls were finally seeing something that they liked onscreen: the objectification of the male body.  Yes, boys, that’s right.  For once in our lives we actually got to redirect the masochistic Hollywood ‘gaze’ onto some big-screen abs and chiseled pectorals.


According to MSNBC.com, the female-driven blockbuster is on the rise and hence, “studios are making more movies now that accurately reflect women’s experiences and interests.”  I would suggest that this trend has partly been inspired by the recent influence of two female directors who have made high-grossing films: Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) and Anne Fletcher (The Proposal).  In addition, we have been seeing a lot more big-budget films being targeted towards young women, a few examples being The Twilight Saga: New Moon (80% female audience), Julie and Julia (67% female audience), The Notebook, Sex and the City, and most recently Dear John.  Geoffry Ammer, marketing chief for the company 'Relativity', suggests that the success of these ‘chick-flicks’ is highly dependent on the social networking tool, Twitter.  He says, “It’s getting all those young girls Tweeting and telling their friends how good the movie is… that’s the key.”

However, even with the recent box office takeover by a young female demographic (a spot traditionally held by the action moviegoers of the teenaged boy variety), why are there still so few female directors?  According to a study published by San Diego State University, only 9% of Hollywood directors in 2008 were female, which is the same number as there were a decade ago, in 1998.  Furthermore, Kathryn Bigelow’s recent Oscar nomination for her film The Hurt Locker, makes her only the 4th woman to ever be nominated in the ‘Best Director’ category… and no woman has ever won.

I would conclude by suggesting that the Twilight phenomenon has certainly projected female director Catherine Hardwicke into the spotlight (whose previous films include Lords of Dogtown and the under-rated Thirteen) and proven that female-driven plots can rake as much dough as their action-adventure counterparts (in fact, the profitability margin of The Twilight Saga: New Moon actually beat out its male-driven counterparts Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in the 2009 summer box office).  I can only hope, like Jane Campion, that aspiring female directors can “put on their coats of armour and get going” in the boys’ club that is Hollywood.

p.s.  Now I can feel slightly less creepy about posting this half-naked photo of Taylor Lautner because it was totally his 18th birthday today ... mrahaha.

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'Twilight in Forks': Documenting the Phenomenon

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , | Posted on 10:45 AM

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One thing that is for sure about the massive success of the Twilight Saga, is its power to catapult something from obscurity to superstardom.  This is the definitely the case with the town of Forks, Washington, the rainiest town in the United States, and hence, where Stephenie Meyer chose to set her story.


In this new HD documentary, three-time Emmy Award-winning director, Jason Brown, delves into the lives of the people who live and work in Forks.  Formerly struggling with tourism revenue, after the Twilight Saga was released, Forks has seen a 1000% increase in tourism.  Although the Twilight movies were not actually filmed in Forks, the documentary entitled, "Twilight in Forks," takes you to the locations, shops, and houses that inspired Stephenie Meyer's books.


Discover Forks, Washington for yourself or check out the trailer below.



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The Rise of the 'Sentimental Vampire'

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , , , | Posted on 8:48 PM

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While the Twilight fever has died down (at least, for the moment), the influence of the monster phenomenon remains fanatical.  The recurring image of the new ‘sentimental vampire’ has virtually taken over our film and television screens.  Most obviously, the television world has seen the emergence of vampire-related shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, neither of which would have been able to break into the market without the overwhelming triumph of The Twilight Saga.  Even Paul Wesley, who plays Stefan the tender-hearted vampire on the CW's The Vampire Diaries, attributes his growing popularity to the phenomenon: “Do I think the show would be successful as it is, if it weren’t for Twilight?  No.”  And the shows themselves often recognize this influence by paying a brief homage to the series.  In The Vampire Diaries, the bad boy vampire Damon scoffs as he flips through a copy of Twilight, remarking, “What’s so special about this Bella girl?  Edward’s so whipped!  I miss Anne Rice.  She was so on it.”  And when asked why he doesn’t sparkle Damon retorts, “Because I live in the real world where vampires burn in the sun.”  More subtly, in the Season Two finale of HBO's True Blood, a brief shot of a red-orange Chevrolet truck is seen parked outside of Merlotte’s Bar and Grill.  It’s no coincidence that Bella drives the exact same vehicle in Twilight and New Moon.


Suddenly, it seemed like our film and television screens were dominated by an onslaught of emotional vampires.  This includes Jordan Galland’s film, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead, which debuted its first teaser twelve months ago, but is finally being set for release this year.  Remarkably, at the end of the four-year span between 2009 and 2012 there will have been a total of 80 new films and television shows that feature the vampire.

In addition, new screenplays that don’t even involve vampires are piggybacking on the success of Twilight to be launched into production.  Two new Bronte films, Wuthering Heights (starring Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick as Heathcliff) and Jane Eyre are set to begin shooting this spring all because of a “renewed enthusiasm among financiers for gothic romance.”  Producers cite the ‘star-crossed’ relationship between Edward and Bella as a source for this new obsession with old gothic tales.  Even Bella Swan goes to sleep every night with Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice on her pillow.

In a similar vein, film producers and distributors are taking advantage of the niche market that has been conveniently created: 12-18 year old girls.  Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones was initially promoted as a dark film targeted at adults (and rightly so, with the sexually violent content).  However, when the critics slammed the film and box office numbers were less than anticipated, Jackson quickly re-cut the trailer to make it more suitable for younger audiences (i.e. Twihards) and acquired the rights to run the trailer prior to the screenings of The Twilight Saga: New Moon.  The marketing strategy paid off big time as Jackson walked away with a surprising additional $20 million: 72% of the audience was female and 40% was younger than 20 years old.  Genius.

So, you think the 'sentimental vampire' craze will end with the release of the fourth and final chapter in The Twilight Saga?  Bite me.

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Mock Trailer Mashups: The Power of (Re)Creation

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , , , | Posted on 10:46 AM

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The Twihard takeover of popular social media sites like Blogger and YouTube has resulted in a surge of 'mock trailers'.  Twilight fans, who more than likely have some sort of audio/video grab and editing software (let's face it... who doesn't?), spend hours upon hours creating these trailer mashups for YouTube.  It might be a wonder why someone would spend so much time on such as thing as a mock trailer, however it's not hard to understand their motivation once you read the viewer comments on the video.  While creators get their fair share of rampant criticism, the praise from Twihards all over the world is overwhelming enough to outweigh the haters as their video almost always goes viral.


The following video is a mock trailer made by editor Kenneth Campbell.  It is a mashup of the audio from The Twilight Saga: New Moon trailer and the video from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  I can't decide if the making of this trailer was for creative purposes or if the editor just had too much time on his hands... but either way, it's pretty entertaining.



flickr image: tyler cyrus

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What Drives Edward: Twilight's 'Trailer-tisements'

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , | Posted on 6:29 PM

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“Stupid, shiny Volvo owner.”  Is one of Bella Swan’s many descriptions of the vampiric Adonis that is Edward Cullen. 

With the Twilight Saga’s newly-acquired blockbuster status, it was only a matter of time before corporate America started sucking the life blood out of the literary and theatrical phenomenon.  Everybody who was anybody knew that linking their product to the Twilight Saga would have ‘tween’-age girls (and Twi-moms alike) lining up at their stores begging for their very own piece of the fantasy, however unrelated and obscure the product might be.

The cosmetic industry wasted no time in transforming and recreating their products to capitalize on an easy target market: the hysterical, frenzied and giggly ‘Twihard’ mobs.  After all, aren’t vampires supposed to be the most beautifully flawless creatures in existence?  Now you can be too!

With the advent of the Twilight Beauty brand of makeup in 2009 (corresponding to the worldwide theatrical release of ‘New Moon,’ the second film in the saga), teen girls all over the world are now able to delve even deeper into their fantasies of transforming into the average, yet adored-by-gorgeous-monsters, Bella Swan.  Women can “highlight their own radiance” with the ‘Luna Twilight’ line of mascara, eye shadow and lip gloss; or express their “Undying Beauty” with the ‘Volturi Twilight’ line of body mists and eye primers.  In fact, they even throw in a tube of ‘Twilight Venom’ lip plumping serum, which “should be shaken before use to represent the blending of the human and vampire worlds.”

In addition to cosmetics, it is unlikely that author Stephenie Meyer could predict that her inclusion of the Volvo brand name in her books would have the potential to ignite such a powerful and effective (not to mention attractive) advertising campaign.  Corresponding again with the ‘New Moon’ theatrical release, Volvo’s ‘What Drives Edward’ competition attracted a whopping 370,000 online entries in just three weeks.  The prize?  A shiny new Volvo XC60, just like the one Edward Cullen drives in the second film.  Volvo’s national advertising manager, Linda Gangeri, says, “It was a missed opportunity in the first film because the car had actually four minutes in the film, which is unheard of in product placement.  It did really well without us doing anything, so with the second film we worked with the studio to develop a global program.” 

In other words, this time around Volvo did not hesitate to capitalize on this product placement in one of the most popular theatrical releases of the decade.  And not without controversy: the famed Cullen-mobile is famous for being shiny and silver (like in the books and the first Twilight movie), yet Volvo was successfully able to convince Summit Entertainment to substitute this entrenched image for a newer model (colour black) in ‘New Moon’ (a move that was accompanied by the horrified screams of a million tween girls).

But, Volvo prevailed in the end.  In an interesting marketing tactic (I call it a 'trailer-tisement'), the commercial for the XC60 model was remarkably similar to the actual New Moon trailer (see below).  In fact, Volvo’s Global Marketing Manager, Paul Walder, even goes as far as to suggest that “More younger people think that Volvo is ‘cool’ because Edward drives one and this will impact on their future car buying decision making.”  While it might seem unlikely that Volvo’s 4.49% increase in sales (as compared with 2008) can be attributed to just one successful marketing campaign, I might respond with this:

Never underestimate the power of the Twihards.



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