Film marketers ramping up cross-promotions

Exec: Brand partnerships let people 'touch and feel' movie

That movie studios will spend the lion's share of their marketing budgets on TV is one of those industry truisms roughly as dependable as Tom Hanks' drawing power. And though this year is bound to be no different, it's worth noting that Hollywood's marketers have fallen in love again with a proven outlet for their hit movies: cross-promotion.

Case in point: the spate of promos surrounding "Sex and the City 2." A lucky winner will get a shopping spree with Patricia Field, the costume designer responsible for keeping Carrie Bradshaw and her pals wrapped in designer brands. Fans also can order "couture cocktails" named after their favorite characters or simply buy bottles of limited-edition movie-themed alcohol and mix them at home. It's all courtesy of a deal between Warner Bros. and Skyy Vodka that pulls ordinary moviegoers into the cosmo-sipping culture of a franchise that's aiming to continue its successful streak when it debuts May 27.

Support for the deal will include bar and restaurant promos, print ads, web sites and social media. Skyy's director of PR and events, David Karraker, said the promo "gives people a way to touch and feel the movie."

That's something that TV ads don't give, which explains why integrations are popping up more frequently. The "Sex"/Skyy deal also illustrates a few tenets that are near and dear (and mandatory) for marketing Hollywood movies these days: Pool your money (promotional partnerships with major brands are gold) and create real-world experiences (high-concept, low-cost and with a social media component) that lets fans dig deep.

The reason for this approach is simple: The American consumer isn't the only one who's been tightening his belt in the lingering recession. Hollywood's heavy-hitters, which spend more than $4 billion annually to market their flicks, have been shaving their ad budgets and whittling their release schedules. These studios are increasingly turning to grass-roots events, guerrilla marketing and digital and social media to make a splash for a pittance.

"Hollywood loves nascent technology; it's very effective for driving PR," said Gordon Paddison, founder and principal of marketing firm Stradella Road and a former New Line executive. "But for it to really work, it has to be integrated into the overall campaign. And it needs to have a twist and a way for people to interact."

Studios cut ad spending by 8% last year to $4.39 billion, according to Bernstein Research. More cuts are expected this year but probably not on such tentpoles as Paramount/DreamWorks' "Shrek Forever After," Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I" and Disney's "Tron Legacy."

TV spending during fourth quarter fell 7%, Bernstein reported, though it's easy to understand why studios continue to devote the biggest chunk of their marketing budgets to it: There's nothing else to match its mass exposure. But it also costs more money for fewer eyeballs. As people spend more of their time with social media, they've also become choosier about what they watch on TV.

Consumers are skipping more commercials than ever. According to the MovieGoers 2010 report from Stradella Road, 61% of moderate-to-heavy moviegoers in their 30s have DVRs, 71% fast-forward through commercials, and 55% say they almost always skip the ads.

No one would leave the fate of a potential blockbuster to an augmented reality stunt, a brand integration in a TV show or a Twitter feed, so the mega-money traditional TV, print and billboard campaign is far from dead. But it's no wonder studio marketers are looking at cheap, and sometimes free, alternatives.

"Iron Man 2" director Jon Favreau has used his Twitter account to leak tidbits about the superhero sequel to his fanboy followers, snagging mainstream media coverage of every "secret" he shared. Disney/Pixar has launched a screening program to show college students the first 65 minutes of "Toy Story 3" -- a "cliffhanger edition"-- to spark interest and blog posts. These students, most of whom were children when the first "Toy Story" movies were released, get into the screenings by signing up on Facebook. The studio just named a new nonentertainment industry marketing chief, M.T. Carney, a brand strategist who reportedly preaches the idea that communications don't have to be tied to ad buys.

The combination of traditional and emerging tactics is working.

Boxoffice is up 9.4% from last year's record-breaking run to $3.2 billion, partly because of the proliferation of 3D movies and their premium ticket prices. The top three pics of early 2010 were released in 3D: "Alice in Wonderland," "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Clash of the Titans." And of course, there's "Avatar."

First-quarter boxoffice snapped records with a $2.65 billion take, up 9% over the same period in 2009. Attendance, a real bellwether of success, is up 7.2%, which bodes well for the summer blockbuster season and beyond.