The annual PMA Star Power conference lived up to its title last month when both Ron Howard and Will Smith spoke to about 500 marketing executives on Warner Bros.’s backlot. Both talked about past movies, upcoming projects, and how they feel about tie-ins to their work.
Howard said his introduction to entertainment marketing came during his eight-year run on The Andy Griffith Show. “General Mills was a sponsor of the show and it was the only product that was located in Mayberry.”
Yet the co-chair of Imagine Entertainment, Brian Grazer, admitted he and Howard were “intimidated” by studio marketing execs. “There were a lot of movies we didn’t use products in,” he added.
But Howard said some movies, like Ransom, don’t invite product placement, while others like Apollo 13 strive for historical accuracy. The duo used Coke and Omega watches in Apollo 13 because those were the astronauts’ brands. But Grazer pointed out, “We could have omitted them.”
“Promotion tie-ins are becoming more and more important,” said Howard, actually referring to product placement deals. “It’s not just marketing, but storytelling. We’re defined by the products we use. It’s as important as deciding where to film. Sometimes you get an offer that doesn’t fit and you have to stay disciplined.”
But Howard said the duo will fight for deals they believe in, with Grazer personally asking the stars to cooperate if necessary. “You lobby for it,” said Grazer, who has done just that with both Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy.
“If you’re Brian Grazer, sometimes you get a yes,” added Howard.
Howard revealed that in his current project, Ed TV, lead actor Matthew McConaughey makes an important phone call on a Motorola cell phone. “He looks at the phone, punches in the number, and gets good news,” Howard said. “I realized I’m doing a commercial here.” Motorola is also doing a tie-in with the film, but Howard didn’t reveal any details of the deal. In the movie, video store clerk McConaughey agrees to let TV executive Ellen DeGeneres film him for an entire day. The film will be released in 1999.
The two filmmakers also talked about Curious George, a live-action project they will make for 1999. The project kicked around for six years until they could come up with the right concept. “Ron decided how to demystify the man in the yellow hat,” said Grazer.
Howard said the movie monkey will be computer generated and part monkey/part toddler in spirit. “It will be cool to see Curious George interact with products we’re familiar with,” Howard said, inviting offers.
Producer Barry Sonnenfeld and a surprise guest – Will Smith – entertained the audience after lunch on Day 2.
The two teamed up for last year’s Men in Black and will release Wild, Wild West next summer on, you guessed it, July 4. Smith joked about the success of ID4 and MIB, which both opened July 4.
“A lot of you missed the boat on ID4,” Smith teased. “I gave you a chance again with Men in Black. Now you have another chance to get on the Wild, Wild, Willy Boat.” Wild, Wild West will be a period western starring Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh.
Both joked about the product tie-ins that could take place in a 19th century-period movie. “It really lends itself to a music tie-in,” Smith said. “Call whoever you have to call.”
Smith said the Ray-Ban tie-in with MIB worked well because “it made the movie more a part of what’s happening in people’s homes.”
Rugrats sizzle Nickelodeon took over the Selling the Sizzle panel, with Pam Kaufman and Sergei Kuharsky explaining how the various deals with Rugrats evolved.
Kuharsky presented the most amazing statistic of the entire conference. Of all the time kids spend watching TV, 57 percent of it is in front of Nickelodeon. He added that 20 Nickelodeon stores will open by year’s end, helped by the push around the November Rugrats movie.
While Nickelodeon has partnered with many companies, Kaufman reminded the audience that there are some opening lines that can be a turn-off. “Bad approaches include: Whoa, my name’s Nick too; Hi, we make guns; and Hey, I love your Power Rangers.”
Matt Bousquette, gm and senior vp boys division, Mattel said, “We like Rugrats, not as a movie property, but as a lifelong property.”
Mott’s vp new products Mike Judlowe said his company would create new flavors of its applesauce for the movie. His company will support with TV, print ads, and an FSI. “It’s the first time we’ve talked with kids,” he said.
Kraft’s consulting director Deb Sawch revealed that beyond opening lines, there is another no-no in Nick land – product placement. Kraft has tied into Nick for years, but has never got product placement in any of the shows, either live-action or animated. “They ate macaroni and cheese once on Rugrats,” she said, “but there was no blue box on the table.”
Retail views The conference included a panel on views from retailers. Blockbuster’s vp promotion Curt Andrews talked about his company’s new marketing push. “We’re looking at how to help theatrical. As crazy as that sounds, it helps us in six months.” Blockbuster recently gave away gift packs to tie-into the feature film release of Anastasia.
Mattel’s senior vp and gm of marketing programs, Rick Deherder said even for the toymaker, the marketing window on properties is decreasing. “Three or four years ago, we used to have a property for 18 months,” he said. “Now it’s only weeks.”
R.J. Milano of McDonald’s gave a rare peek behind the Golden Arches when he talked about the fall tie-in with both Flubber and Little Mermaid. When Flubber became a big hit and the Happy Meals featured the Little Mermaid, customers were confused and annoyed, he said. “Customers wanted a fully integrated program. They wanted Flubber,” he said.
Conversely, the restaurant’s best tie-in was the live-action 101 Dalmations. In that case, McDonald’s let Disney open the movie, then used its media spending to drive repeat business to both theaters and restaurants.
On the Music Promotion panel, Disney Records assistant manager of promotions Karen Dekker talked about the deal she brokered to team Disney music with both Dole and Musicland/Sam Goody. She also revealed that ’70s superstar Peter Frampton was recording songs for an upcoming Winnie the Pooh album.
Country music singer Jodee Mussina talked about her typical day on tour, going from morning workouts to business calls to meet-and-greets backstage to the concert. After the panel discussion, she performed four songs.