A new launch party is 'Bourne'

Marketing for Uni's DVD release is a virtual success

Five years ago, to kick off the DVD release of "The Scorpion King," Universal Studio Home Entertainment's marketing team marched camels down Sunset Boulevard as a publicity stunt. Gobs of free TV coverage augmented traditional advertising at a time when what's known in the business as "event marketing" was fast becoming the norm for marquee DVD launches.

This year, Universal took a different tack to launch its big fourth-quarter title, "The Bourne Ultimatum." The film's DVD release Tuesday wasn't marked with a big spotlight-grabbing shindig but rather with the start of a 21-day "virtual" event online in partnership with AOL.

AOL created a custom "Bourne Ultimatum" DVD page with a map, streaming video and trivia. Visitors are asked to perform seven missions across the AOL network for a chance to win a trip to New York, the location where Bourne returns home. Clues were provided at AOL locations, including Auto, Moviefone, TV, Music and Travel.

The decision to hold the launch party on the Internet rather than at a physical location came as a result of research that shows DVD buyers have become increasingly tech savvy, USHE president Craig Kornblau said.

Indeed, between 2006 and 2007, the heaviest DVD buyers -- those who buy at least 11 DVDs a year -- increased their trips to the Internet to seek out DVD information by 53%, proprietary Universal research shows.

"As consumers become progressively more discerning about their DVD purchases, we are constantly looking for the next convention-shattering approach to effectively capture their attention," Kornblau said.

The approach certainly seems to have paid off: Consumers snapped up 3 million copies of the action hit in its first day in stores, according to industry sources, making it one of the biggest success stories so far of the holiday shopping season.

Live events have a shelf life of one or two days in the news media, Kornblau says, while an online event can provide coverage over days or even weeks. Moreover, online events can immerse the visitor in the film much more than a live event can.

"Through watching clips or answering trivia, the experience becomes interactive, not passive," he said. "It is no longer a 30-second spot or 10-second editorial bite, but a lengthier experience that captures the consumer's attention much longer."

Universal was one of the first studios to zero in on event marketing as a way to generate press the day a DVD arrives in stores, beginning with "The Mummy" in fall 1999. Since then, the studio has staged a parade of celebrities down Hollywood Boulevard for "Animal House," thrown parties at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills and Hollywood's Ka for "Seabiscuit" and "Lost in Translation" and produced a rap battle with Eminem in a seedy Detroit dance hall to promote the DVD debut of "8 Mile."

The mystery-shrouded Web campaign for "The Blair Witch Product," which sought to persuade viewers that the events in the movie really happened, helped make a low-budget horror movie into a pop-cultural sensation. Since then, studios have begun relying more on the Web to market their movies, and according to Kornblau, moving launch events from a live arena into cyberspace is the next logical progression.

"There will always be a place for theatrical-style DVD premieres and major live publicity stunts," he said. "However, the Internet's pervasive influence on heavy DVD buyers made our partnership with AOL on 'The Bourne Ultimatum' equally valuable by enabling us to build the ultimate online event spanning AOL's expansive network."