Paramount's 'Transformers' Marketing: From Oreo to Uber

Transformers Oreo - H - 2014
Mondelez International.

The fourth installment in the Michael Bay franchise is "the big daddy of partnership opportunities," said Paramount worldwide marketing partnerships executive vp LeeAnne Stables.

Uber rides, viral videos, “Action Fruit Creme” and “Prime Berry Creme” Oreo cookies — Paramount has struck a diverse array of promotional partnerships to launch Transformers: Age of Extinction, which opened in theaters on Thursday night in the U.S. To promote the fourth film in the Michael Bay franchise, the studio is working with two global and four national partners as well as a wide range of regional and international partners.

“For us, Transformers is the big daddy of partnership opportunities,” LeeAnne Stables, Paramount worldwide marketing partnerships executive vp, told The Hollywood Reporter. The exec estimated that those partnerships add up to a global promotional value of more than $200 million.

Extinction stars a new cast led by Mark Wahlberg, and tracking suggests that it may have a $100-million opening weekend in North America, where it brought in $8.8 million in midnight showings Thursday night. And while Paramount has worked with a similar number of partners —like Burger King, Mountain Dew, Nokia and M&Ms — on past installments, this time most of the brands it has enlisted are new to the series.

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Chevrolet, which makes the Camaro that transforms into the robot Bumblebee, is the franchise’s one returning global partner. The carmaker has been partnered with Transformers since the first installment in 2007. “It’s really one of the most longstanding movie partnerships in the business,” said Stables, who oversaw the deal. “I’d be hard-pressed to think of another franchise that has been through four films with a partnership of that magnitude.”

Mondelez International, through its Oreo brand, is Extinction’s new global partner. The deal is Oreo’s first global partnership with a movie, and it involved no payments, a Mondelez spokesperson said, only media spending by Mondelez. The campaign includes a globally aired TV spot directed by Bay.

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There also happens to be just about one degree of separation between Mondelez and Extinction. Earlier this year, activist investor Nelson Peltz, whose Trian hedge fund holds a large stake in Mondelez, joined the Mondelez board. Nelson’s daughter Nicola Peltz has a prominent role in the film, in which she plays Wahlberg’s daughter, although both Paramount and Mondelez say that connection is coincidental.

Additionally, Paramount has locked in national partnerships with Big Red (the soft drink maker), fuel company Valero, Western Star Trucks and Waste Management.

The partnership roster supplements marketing by Hasbro, the toymaker whose “robots in disguise” provided the inspiration for the films. Hasbro has more than 300 licensing agreements for Transformers merchandise. It has released its own line of Extinction toys, a video game by Activision, a mobile game and it has made almost 20 new retail agreements with vendors worldwide.  

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This time around, Paramount’s promotional partners for Extinction are cross-marketing this installment differently than earlier entries in the series in two key areas — digital promotions and mainland China.

The importance of digital and social media marketing has increased steadily in the three years since Transformers: Dark of the Moon, says Stables. “The digital strategy in content creation has come to the forefront of the conversation," Stables explained. 

Partnering with brands like Oreo, the Transformers campaign has customized the digital marketing tools those brands had in place already — for instance, Oreo’s Twist, Lick, Dunk mobile game app includes new Transformers-themed gameplay. The partnerships have produced new digital and social initiatives, too, like Oreo’s integration of its Transformers retail displays in China with the social app WeChat.

Big Red released a Transformers video online created by the comedy duo Beef & Sage, who also are behind a couple of online video campaigns for the soda. “The thought was, ‘how can we engage the Transformers fan, and engage Big Red fans that are familiar with this tongue-in-cheek humor?’” Big Red marketing svp Thomas Oh told THR.

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Paramount has enlisted the driving app Uber, offering users in Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles the chance to request a ride from the Western Star truck that appears in the movie as Optimus Prime. “We’re in the business of promoting the movie. Sometimes that’s through millions of dollars of paid advertising, and sometimes it’s just a great idea that garnered a lot of publicity. I’d put the Uber stunt in that category,” Stables says.

In a bid to attract the growing Chinese audience, the new film was produced in cooperation with the Chinese Movie Channel and its Sid Ganis-founded partner Jiaflix Enterprises. The film’s cast includes well-established Chinese actors Li Bingbing and Han Geng and four performers chosen through a Chinese reality show.

The Transformers series has performed well at the Chinese box office since its first installment in 2007. China was the highest-grossing international territory for both the second installment in 2009 and the third, and Extinction is looking to attract even more business there.

The film’s Chinese launch hit a bumpy patch earlier this week when the Beijing Investment Co., which operates Beijing’s Pangu Plaza hotel, stated that a product placement deal it said it had struck for the film had not been honored. The company tried to halt the movie’s opening. But Paramount and Bay reached a compromise that satisfied Pangu, and Jiaflix said Pangu’s claims were false, saying in a statement, “We do not understand why Pangu, which is presented in an extraordinary manner to the world in Michael Bay’s Transformers 4, would make such inaccurate assertions.”

Meanwhile, Paramount’s two global partners have also both aimed promotions exclusively at China. Oreo has its WeChat integration and custom retail displays, while Chevy made a stop at the Beijing Auto Show in April, its first to cross-promote a Transformers film. The automaker used the appearance to launch a version of its Trax model, which plays a part in Extinction.

Twitter: @asiegemundbroka