Whether it was talking cars, sword-wielding pirates or a red-caped flying superhero, consumers’ love affair with the movies reignited this year, ending a slump at the box office and reinvigorating sales for tie-in partners.
Beyond the popcorn and sweet treats, improved storylines and big-name tent pole films such as Sony Pictures’ The Da Vinci Code, Walt Disney Pictures’ Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Devil Wears Prada from 20th Century Fox were among some of the hottest draws of the year.
“It’s been a relatively good year,” says Tom Meyer, president, Davie-Brown Entertainment, Los Angeles. “People have come back to the box office. It has a lot to do with the quality of the pictures and the subject matter.”
Studio box office revenue reached $6.62 billion through Labor Day, up 6.8% from 2005, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., the Encino, CA-based box office tracking company. Summer attendance rose to nearly 581 million, a 2.8% increase over 2005 when box office attendance plummeted to an eight-year low.
But in addition to more appealing films, studios lured moviegoers to theaters with niche marketing campaigns and plenty of activity on the Internet, including touting films through social networking and video sharing Web sites.
“It’s Internet, Internet, Internet,” says Damon Wolf, a partner with Los Angeles-based Crew Creative Advertising. “We’re all in the age of YouTube and MySpace and blogging. There is a demand more than ever to understand and address the complexities of the marketplace. That’s where people are connecting.”
Disney, for example, targeted users of social networking site MySpace.com to build buzz around its summer hit Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which last month broke $1 billion at the global box office. Members competed to be the first to view the Pirates trailer and distribute it through MySpace’s network of more than 74 million subscribers. The winner also flew to Los Angeles to interview cast members during a press event.
New Line Cinema created a viral firestorm around its promotion for Snakes on a Plane. The studio let movie fans create and send personalized phone and e-mail messages in Mad-Lib style to friends from actor Samuel L. Jackson. In all, fans sent more than 4 million calls and e-mails during the four-week campaign. VariTalk, LLC, Chicago, handled.
Such a campaign “speaks to the fragmentation of the audience and being able to customize their experience with different mediums,” says Lance Still, New Line Cinema’s executive VP-national promotions. “It’s an evolution…keep up or die.”
Despite the hype, the film brought in only $15 million during its opening weekend in August. While studios agree the Snakes on a Plane campaign was by far one of the hottest they’ve seen this year, the stunt was off the mark at the box office.
“It’s not enough to have just the cool promotion,” says Mimi Slavin, senior VP-Warner Bros. Pictures National Promotions. “You’ve got to come up with…a film message that is meaningful to your consumer. That’s always a challenge.”
Beyond the box office
Tie-in partners are riding the wave of promotion pushed out by the studios to engage consumers and extend the amount of time spent with their products. Volvo struck it rich this summer with its online treasure hunt tied to Disney’s Pirates sequel. The automaker sent fans to dealerships to obtain a map and a code to solve clues to find a buried Volvo SUV. The contest drew 143,000 people from around the world; 29,000 reached the final stage. Six finalists each walked away with a Volvo and the winner with the coveted Pirates-themed SUV. RSCG Worldwide, Euro RSCG, New York and Euro RSCG 4D, Amsterdam, handled.
“The days of opening a cereal box to see if you have won are over,” Meyer says. “[Marketers] want to do something that is more engaging…that changes your opinion about the brand and makes you buy their products. If you can connect your brand on an emotional level via a movie property where it influences the consumers’ purchase, that is a huge win for any brand.”
For the spring release of RV, Sony Pictures attached itself to a well-known business tool, the BlackBerry, and launched a downloadable game on the device around the film. In RV Pile Up, players raced an animated RV through obstacles before time expired. Such niche marketing campaigns appeal to moviegoers because “it speaks to them in an environment where they want to live,” says George Leon, executive VP of worldwide consumer marketing for Sony Pictures Entertainment. “Two years ago, TV would have been the first thing we talked about, but not necessarily anymore.”
Next May, DreamWorks Animation will kick off a two-year, worldwide marketing and promotional relationship with McDonald’s starting with Shrek the Third followed by Bee Movie in November 2007. The promotion will include Happy Meal premiums based on each film. The studio will also design animation for the QSR’s TV spots and other campaigns. This year, Disney ended a 10-year relationship with McDonald’s to promote its films. Partners Pepsi, Frito-Lay and M&M Mars are expected to return to the Shrek franchise for its 2007 outing.
“The idea of associating yourself with a brand that already has awareness or some consumer goodwill to it is very exciting to a [studio],” Leon says. “It helps contemporize and makes your message really topical.”
And while major tent pole films attract brands, some studios say quantity isn’t as relevant as quality.
Fox’s mantra for partners is “fewer, bigger, better,” says Lisa Licht, Twentieth Century Fox’s senior VP-feature film promotions and field operations. “It’s better to have one partner doing the right thing than 13 partners being a little off strategy. To achieve excellence on each deal takes a lot more time. That’s why it makes sense to do fewer [partnerships] and get it right than to do a lot and risk making errors.”
New Line Cinema agrees.
“We tend to go after the road less traveled,” Still says. “Promotions that really resonate at the consumer level are ones that have synergy and are organic. We really don’t go after the guys with the most money. We go after the ones that would make the most sense, ones that will make the best campaign.”
Release dates and casting for the following were provided by Exhibitor Relations Co, Inc.; each is subject to change.
First Quarter 2007
HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sigourney Weaver
Stepmother Frieda tries to take over Fairy Tale Land, but Ella, her stepdaughter leads a resistance effort against it.
Jan. 12, Warner Bros. Pictures
Bruce Willis, Virginia Madsen
An astronaut must retire to save his family farm, but he can’t give up his dream of space travel. So, he builds his own rocket, despite government threats to stop him.
Feb. 16, Universal Pictures
Ryan Phillippe, Chris Cooper
An aspiring FBI agent works with a renowned operative who soon finds his mentor may be the nation’s most dangerous security risk.
Feb. 16, Sony Pictures
Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes
Based on the Marvel character, stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze gives up his soul to fight Blackheart, the son of the devil.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
Feb. 16, Walt Disney Pictures
Zooey Deschanel, Josh Hutcherson
Based on the novel of the same name, running foes Jess and Leslie strike up a friendship, and discover a magical kingdom in the forest where they reign as king and queen.
March 2, Walt Disney Pictures
Tim Allen, John Travolta
Suburban biker wannabes hit the open road to find adventure when they encounter a gang in New Mexico.
March 23, MGM
Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt
The story of a man with a murderous alter ego and the detective hot on his trail.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
March 30, Warner Bros. Pictures
Dave Fouquette, Tony Gordy
Strange events are happening in New York City, but Turtles Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo have become lost. It’s up to Leonardo and Zen Master Splinter to come to the rescue.
MEET THE ROBINSONS
March 30, Walt Disney Pictures
Jamie Isaac Conde, Spencer Fox
A genius invents a machine that recovers forgotten memories, and inadvertently travels forward in time, where he meets a family whose survival depends on his invention.
Second Quarter 2007
April 4, New Line Cinema
Timothy Hutton, Joely Richardson
Two siblings develop special talents after they find a mysterious box of toys, and are soon drawn into a strange new world.
April 4, 2007, MGM
A rich kid becomes the self-appointed psychiatrist at his high school.
May 4, Sony Pictures
With new powers and a black suit, Spider-Man must battle the new Green Goblin, Sandman, Venom and other dangers in this, the third installment in the franchise.
SHREK THE THIRD
May 18, DreamWorks Animation
Fiona, Shrek and Donkey search out a new king when Fiona’s father dies in the third installment for the anti-hero ogre.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLDS END
May 25, Walt Disney Pictures
Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann travel around the world, navigating treachery and betrayal leading to one last battle to save their friend Jack Sparrow.
June 8, Warner Bros. Pictures
George Clooney, Matt Damon, Steve Soderbergh
The third installment continues with Danny Ocean’s criminal mischief and his crew.
June 8, Sony Pictures
Jeff Bridges, James Woods
Up-and-coming penguin Cody Maverick tries out for the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship.
June 22, Universal Pictures
Steve Carrell, Morgan Freeman
God contacts a former anchorman turned politician to build an ark in preparation for a forthcoming flood.
June 29, Walt Disney Pictures
Ratatouille the rat lives in a Parisian restaurant run by a famous, but eccentric chef.
FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER
July 4, 20th Century Fox
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba
The mighty four return to square off against the powerful Silver Surfer and Dr. Doom.
Third Quarter 2007
July 4, Paramount Pictures
Battling alien races, the Autobots and the Decepticons, bring their duel to Earth.
HARRY POTTER & THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
July 13, Warner Bros. Pictures
Harry Potter returns to warn about Lord Voldemort’s return — yet no one believes him. Harry and Dumbledore are targeted by Wizard authorities while an evil teacher takes over at Hogwarts.
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY
July 20, Universal Pictures
Adam Sandler, Kevin James
Two straight, single firefighters pretend to be a gay couple to receive domestic partner benefits.
July 27, 20th Century Fox
Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner
Based on the popular TV show, the Simpsons hit the big screen.
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
Aug. 3, Universal Pictures
Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Paul Greengrass
Bourne tries to discover the mysteries of his past while a government agent races to track him down after a Moscow shootout.
Aug. 3, Walt Disney Pictures
Alex Neiberger, Diz White, Frederik Du Chau
A lab accident gives Shoeshine the dog superpowers, a secret the dog later shares with the young boy who becomes his owner and friend.
Aug. 10, Warner Bros. Pictures
Emma Roberts, Emma, Rachael Lee Cook
Teen detective Nancy Drew travels with her father on a Los Angeles business trip where she finds clues to a murder mystery.
Aug. 17, Paramount
Shia LaBeouf, Carrie-Anne Moss
A teen under house arrest becomes convinced his neighbor is a serial killer.
THE BRAVE ONE
Oct. 12, Warner Bros. Pictures
Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Neil Jordan
A woman fights to recover from a brutal attack by seeking revenge.
Fourth Quarter 2007
THE GOLDEN AGE
Oct. 5, Universal Pictures
Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen
An exploration into the relationship between Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh.
Oct. 19, The Weinstein Co.
A new incarnation of the infamous Halloween horror movie franchise directed by Rob Zombie.
Nov. 2, Walt Disney Pictures
Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Kevin Lima
A princess is banished by an evil queen from the cartoon world of Andalasia to present-day New York City.
Nov. 2, DreamWorks Animation
Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger
Barry the bee is disillusioned at his career choice of making honey. On a trip outside the hive, a New York City florist saves Barry’s life. As their relationship blooms, Barry learns humans eat honey and he decides to sue.
SEVEN DAY ITCH
Oct. 5, Paramount Pictures
Ben Stiller, Michelle Monaghan
A man, newly wed to his version of the perfect woman, finds another love on his honeymoon.
Nov. 9, Warner Bros. Pictures
Vince Vaughn, Kevin Spacey
Joe Claus, Santa’s bitter, older brother, is forced to move to the North Pole.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
Nov. 16, New Line Cinema
A young girl travels to save her best friend, encountering witches and other-worldly characters along the way.
Nov. 16, Paramount Pictures
Angelina Jolie, Alison Lohman
Scandinavian warrior Beowulf must fight and defeat Grendel, a monster who is terrorizing towns.
Dec. 7, Sony Pictures
Emily Watson, David Morrissey, Jay Russell
A lonely boy finds a mysterious egg, which hatches a sea creature of Scottish legend.
Dec. 21, New Line Cinema
John Travolta, Queen Latifah
Based on the Broadway musical, a plump teenager teaches Baltimore a thing about integration after landing a spot on a local TV dance show in 1962.
Dec. 25, Paramount Pictures
After moving to Spiderwick Estate, twins Jared and Simon Grace and their sister Mallory find themselves in a world full of fairies and other creatures.
Breaking News: CNN Sends Sweeps Winner to South Africa
This month, a CNN sweeps tests people’s knowledge of South Africa’s history, culture and geography. The trivia game looks to promote the film Catch A Fire, an international murder mystery set in Apartheid-era South Africa starring Tim Robbins and Derek Luke.
The action begins Oct. 16 at CNN.com/Entertainment, just days before the Oct. 27 release of the Focus Feature film. One grand-prize winner gets a 10-day trip for two to South Africa, private city tours, a three-day safari trip and visits to museums, historical neighborhoods and cultural attractions.
In a very cluttered marketplace, studios are trying to reach consumers in creative ways and are flocking to the network that offers global reach and appeal, says Greg D’Alba, COO ad sales and marketing for CNN.
“We can make a connection to everyone, everywhere,” D’Alba says. “CNN is a household brand. It connects people of all ages.”
Since its inception a decade ago, CNN’s promotions group has created more than 30 sweepstakes for studios. During that time, a new dynamic has emerged — a younger audience (18-49) that’s demanding content how and where they want it via online and digital platforms, D’Alba says. For example, CNN.com gets more than 23 million unique visitors each month and serves 9.5 million podcasts each month.
To reach the millions on the go, CNN will launch a long form ad on The Making of Catch A Fire on CNN’s Airport Network with director’s commentary and spots prompting passersby to enter the sweeps via CNNtoGo on their cell phones. The network will also send e-mail blasts to CNN.com subscribers dangling free movie screenings at select theaters nationwide.
The sweepstakes runs through Nov. 5. TV spots and online materials support. CNN Marketing and Promotions division handles.
— Amy Johannes
Top 10 Movie Tie-In Tips
When it comes to leveraging your brand, what better way than to latch on to a star-studded motion picture?
Studios are all about opening weekend, yet the challenge for marketers is to keep consumers buzzing weeks before — and after, says Lou Garate, managing director, Ryan Partnership. Brands “need to create a little more life beyond opening weekend,” he says.
For some, that means stocking movie-themed goodies on retail shelves, dangling premiums or launching a one-of-a-kind sweepstakes tied to the film. “People respond to films,” says Matthew Glass, CEO and chairman of Grand Central Marketing. “There is an emotional link there. You can use some of that excitement…[to] associate with your products.”
PROMO asked a sampling of agencies to share some tips on how to forge a successful tie-in to a major motion picture:
- Ask for an exclusive Tie a promotion to a specific character or movie theme
- Reveal exclusive movie-themed content Be the first to unveil a secret about the movie
- Sponsor an online promotion targeting high school kids that offers red carpet treatment or special screenings as prizes
- Offer moviegoers a unique experience (think premiere parties)
- Read the script before agreeing to a product placement deal
- Go big or go home
- Release an on-pack DVD of the film before its theatrical release
- Team up with a sequel (a “safer” choice)
- Launch on-site marketing at a movie theater (think coupons with tickets and sampling)
- Auction off a prop from the movie, or use it as a sweepstakes prize
SOURCES: Catapult Marketing, Los Angeles; Ryan Partnership, Wilton, CT; Davie-Brown Entertainment, Los Angeles; Alloy Media + Marketing and Grand Central Marketing, both of New York City.
— Amy Johannes