As Hollywood fast-forwards the calendar, starting the lucrative summer movie season with spring only half-sprung, Madison Avenue is scrambling to keep pace. So as the season begins on Friday with "X2: X-Men United," advertisers and agencies are unleashing earlier than ever a bewildering barrage of film-themed advertising, promotions and products.
Consumers-cum-moviegoers are already being peddled some curiosities that extend beyond marketers' usual promotional ploys of product placements and character toys. Baskin-Robbins has created desserts in mutated flavors inspired by the "X-Men" sequel, while Coca-Cola is bringing out versions of its PowerAde sports drink in oddball bottles inspired by "The Matrix Reloaded."
Other major marketers like DaimlerChrysler, Diageo, Federated Department Stores, Mitsubishi, PepsiCo and Toyota are scheduling similarly extensive and expensive tie-ins with other big summer releases like "Down With Love," "Finding Nemo," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life," "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde," "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and "2 Fast 2 Furious." All told, 50-plus would-be blockbusters will swamp cineplexes through August.
"The idea is to saturate the market," said Susan Nunziata, executive editor of Entertainment Marketing Letter, an industry newsletter published by EPM Communications in New York. But the results, she added, can often resemble "a three-ring circus."
The frenetic activity is indicative of the increasing efforts by marketers of consumer products to capitalize on the star power the film studios unleash each summer. Moviemakers like Columbia, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers in turn want a piece of the consumer product companies' multimillion-dollar marketing budgets to amplify their own sales pitches.
But there are possible downsides to the saturation marketing. No ad blitz can ever guarantee the success of a movie, particularly during the crowded summer season. Just ask the producers of and marketing partners for recent box-office duds like "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" and "Stuart Little 2."
"The personalities you tie in with can transcend a movie's failure, but you never know," said Kurt Graetzer, chief executive at the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board in Washington, the "Got Milk?" marketers who have allied themselves with hits like "Rugrats" and flops like "Matilda." The milk board is a promotional partner for "The Hulk," to be released by the Universal division of Vivendi Universal on June 20. The board may also sign up for as many as three more summer films, Mr. Graetzer said.
The other, graver risk is the cacophonous din of cross-marketing that can so overwhelm and confuse consumers that it suppresses sales of tickets and products.
"There is a law of diminishing returns to the point there's sometimes backlash," said John Partilla, chief executive at Brand Buzz in New York, a marketing agency owned by the WPP Group.
"Consumers are saying: `You're trying too hard. You're all over me. You're trying to sell me,' " Mr. Partilla said. "It questions the integrity of the entertainment venue."
The marketers acknowledge those potential pitfalls and assert that they are striving to avoid them.
"You see films out there that tie in with everything under the sun, which seem so overtly commercial," said Juli Falkoff, senior vice president and product group director for Tanqueray gin at the Schieffelin & Somerset Company in New York. "We wouldn't want to do anything like that."
In developing the first major cross-marketing campaign between Tanqueray and a summer movie, she added, "we looked for something consistent with our brand values: stylish, sophisticated, witty," as well as "something where we could stand out from the pack."
What fit that double bill, Ms. Falkoff said, was "Down With Love," due on May 16 from the 20th Century Fox unit of the News Corporation. Tanqueray is sponsoring screenings of the film, which pays homage to the romantic comedies of the 1960's. It is also running offbeat ads, produced by J. Walter Thompson in New York, part of WPP, that feature retro-chic caricatures of the cast members.
Because "Down With Love" has fewer advertiser partners than most other big summer movies, there is less danger of Tanqueray's losing its distinctiveness, Ms. Falkoff said. Schieffelin & Somerset is owned by Diageo and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
"We don't set out with an objective that we've got to be part of a big summer movie," said Russell Weiner, marketing director at the Pepsi-Cola North America division of the Pepsi-Cola Company in Purchase, N.Y. The division of PepsiCo will hawk Mountain Dew in a tie-in with "The Hulk" and SoBe beverages in a tie-in with "2 Fast 2 Furious."
"The perfect movie brands are those that reinforce our brands," Mr. Weiner said. "If the tie's not there, we'll take a pass."
He said the longtime ads for green-colored Mountain Dew, centered on unleashing energy, dovetail with "The Hulk." And the youthful demographic target for "2 Fast 2 Furious," a sequel to "The Fast and the Furious" to be released by Universal on June 6, fits the SoBe product line.
The Chrysler Group division of DaimlerChrysler became so inundated with movie marketing ideas, said Jeff Bell, vice president for the Jeep division in Auburn Hills, Mich., that "under the leadership of our agencies, BBDO and the Arnell Group, we hold an annual review of every film that's coming or potentially coming for the next two, three calendar years, to identify five or six for each brand to explore."
"What we want is a story line where our brand can play a leading role," Mr. Bell said, "a role in a film that's an extension of its role outside the film."
For instance, scenes in the script of "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life," due out on July 25, "show Lara using Jeeps as a tool for her to achieve her heroic, adventurous endeavors," he added, which helped seal a cross-marketing agreement between the Jeep division and the film's studio, the Paramount division of Viacom. BBDO and Arnell are part of the Omnicom Group.
As for the summer movie season edging further into spring, some marketers say they are watching the trend warily, because their products sell better in warmer weather.
"It's getting to the outer reaches right now," said Jim Trebilcock, senior vice president for Dr Pepper/Seven-Up in Plano, Tex., a division of Cadbury Schweppes that is placing images of the X-Men characters on more than 200 million packages of Dr Pepper soft drinks to promote the Fox release on Friday of "X2: X-Men United."
"March is probably is not a good idea," he added.
Posted on aef.com: May 5, 2003
Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. April 30, 2003
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