Multiplex Marketing

It's summertime, and the movie-product tie-ins are flourishing. Is it really worth all the fuss for advertisers? You bet.

Long before its first sneak preview, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a monster hit. Not with moviegoers-with marketers.

Industry insiders suggest that advertisers fought a major bidding war to tie their products with film. Why the fuss? Because Indiana Jones is cross-generational and cross-gender, making it a cross-promoter's dream.

The eventual victors in the tie-in title, Kraft, and Mars among others-have each launched costly campaigns with interactive appeal.

In case you didn't notice, Indiana Jones is not alone. Kung Fu Panda, Iron Man, Speed Racer, The Dark Knight, and even Sex and the City have piled onto the cross-promotion bandwagon this summer.

It's a big bandwagon indeed: Spending can easily match or exceed the estimated $3.5 billion that all studios budget to market movies.

The goal? To start: Produce recordbreaking box office receipts and heightened brand awareness. But some are innovating in the field. The business of hype is growing, even in a down economy, and a new school of advertisers are trying to redefine this industry within an industry.

The allure of Hollywood is its ability to help advertisers stand out to the jaded, overwhelmed consumer. "Why do brands go back? Because they want to break through the clutter, draft off brand awareness and brand affinity," says Alden Stoner, director of the film department at Davie Brown Entertainment, a Los Angeles firm that specializes in brokering cross-promotional deals.

Incremental revenue is rarely the goal, even for advertisers selling big-ticket products like autos and electronics. It's the desire to equate their brands with the "emotional connotation of the movie," says Stoner. They want to sell the adventure of Indiana Jones, the mystery of The Dark Knight, and the sex of Sex and the City in specially marked packages at a store near you.

And ad spending is up-52 percent in 2007 according to an Accenture study, and 24 percent in the motion media category alone, which includes movie and TV. A cross-promotional movie campaign for each product can cost between $2 million and $20 million, depending on the film's buzz and whether a bidding war erupts over the rights to be an exclusive partner in a particular category.

As the competition for both advertisers and studios comes to a boil during the summer months, innovation is king.

"There's a need to research new ways to integrate message and content," says Entertainment Weekly publisher Scott Donaton. "These partnerships lead to the box office."

A division is growing between the easy-to-spot tie-in and the emerging school of brands that don't want you to know, they just want you to want.

An old-school advertiser sticks to a traditional formula. McDonald's, General Mills, and Mattel are prime examples. Their classic tools of the trade include Happy Meal toys, TV spots, on-pack promotions for Lucky Charms, Betty Crocker, and Pop Secret, and rolling out action figures for younger audiences to snap up at retail outlets worldwide. The old school needs to "fill the pipeline" says Stoner.

With traditional cross-promoting, a failed film doesn't translate into a failed partnership. All three of those brands partnered with Speed Racer, arguably this summer's biggest flop: The $160 million film grossed only $40 million in the first four weeks in theatres. Still, advertisers still drew from the film's buzz.

By contrast, the new school of advertisers aim to give consumers a deeper movie experience, through interactive means. "Advertisers are always looking for the cool factor, and now studios are listening," says Tom Meyer, President of Davie Browne Entertainment. "They're no longer looking for just a logo, they want access to exclusive content, to get closer."

The Indiana Jones microsite, for example, offers a chance to win trips to exotic locales, behind-the-scenes footage, an "Indy store," bulletin boards, news, and other features.

When LG and Audi signed on to launch new products with Marvel's Iron Man, they took the idea to another level. Techno playboy Tony Stark was a natural fit to drive an Audi R8 in the film and, of course, be seen yapping on his 18-karat gold LG Shine, while inventing the greatest modern weaponry.

But on-screen product cameos now go beyond the screen. Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. pulled up to the curb of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in his Audi R8 for the film's Audi-sponsored premiere. It's getting harder to tell where the advertisement stops and the movie marketing begins.

Mercedes-Benz called on actress Kim Cattrall, who plays the blond cougar in the HBO series turned best-opening R-rated comedy Sex and the City, to attend a Detroit launch party for their GLK S.U.V., which she also drives in the film.

"Very passionate people make Mercedes and they're very smart, and I've always considered both of those things right down Samantha's alley," Cattrall told reporters at the event. "It's a cutting-edge car."

Sony may have the most fingers in the pie, with their launch of Sony movies (and by all means movie previews) on AT&T Mobile-placing their movie marketing directly into the consumers cell phones. Text to win movie premiere tickets? Don't mind if we do.

Microsites, premieres, free video content, and off-screen product demos by the stars are all part of where the game is headed. And the coming of 3-D will open a host of new opportunities. "You'll see things you've never seen before," predicts Meyer.

Old or new, cross promotion-where Madison and Vine meet and make money-is a partnership both studios and advertisers can't afford to let slip.

"Brands need content and content needs brands," says Shelley Zalis, founder and C.E.O. of OTX Research, which has consulted with Disney and other studios to update their marketing strategies.

"It's the perfect synergy," Zalis added, "and it's never going away."

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