Partner ship: 13 sail with 'Pirates'

Disney's sequel laden with promotions, cooperation

The Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures Marketing has lined up 13 promotional partners for "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," the most ever for the studio on any one film, and said it also helped orchestrate an unprecedented level of collaboration between the partners.

Among the partnerships is probably one of the studio's best-timed promotions ever. Its tie-in partner, Odyssey Marine Exploration, said Friday that it has discovered a shipwreck treasure that Captain Jack Sparrow could only dream of: more than 500,000 Colonial-era silver and gold coins believed to be the most valuable shipwreck treasure ever, with experts estimating its worth at as much as $500 million.

Cherise McVicar, Buena Vista Pictures Marketing senior vp national promotions and mobile marketing, said the timing of the announcement was "absolutely serendipitous."

"If you ask me, it's a remarkable coincidence and it's a very, very exciting time to have a relationship with Odyssey," she said.

McVicar denied speculation that the timing of the announcement was linked to Friday's release of the third and final installment in the "Pirates" franchise. "We've been working with the Odyssey team for probably close to if not over a year," she said. "If you think about it, it would be next to impossible to keep something like that under wraps."

Buena Vista was not concerned about negative publicity sparked by rumors and allegations Monday that the shipwreck could have been the Spanish HMS Sussex or the British vessel Merchant Royal. The Spanish government said it would claim the loot if it turned out to be Spanish or was removed from Spanish waters. In England, the find generated news reports that Odyssey had salvaged the wreck of the Merchant Royal, which sank in bad weather off the coast of England in 1641.

Meanwhile, Odyssey confirmed it was in discussions with Disney about "some new partnership opportunities" that appeared to involve TV or film projects.

In addition to Odyssey, most of the partners on "Pirates" — Volvo, Verizon, Albertson's, Coca-Cola, Circuit City, Best Buy, Visa/Commerce Bank, Gibson Guitars, Street Surfing, Madame Tussauds, Toys "R" Us and Starwood Hotels — gathered last summer on a Disney cruise line to Castaway Cay island for three days to meet with one another and with Disney divisions to figure out ways they could collaborate on their promotions and marketing campaigns. McVicar said the result is "tremendous synergy" among the studio's partners.

"We really encouraged our partners to support each other's businesses and truthfully to their credit they stepped up for each other," she said. "I can't think of another time when there's been such tremendous cooperation from partner to partner in support of one of our motion picture releases. We really stepped up our efforts to encourage cross-pollination wherever it made sense."

She said Buena Vista organized a second mini-conference at the studio in January to ensure that all of its partners were involved and had the opportunity to be included in one another's programs. Among the cross-promotional activity is Coca-Cola offering consumers the chance to win a Volvo XC90 — the focus of Volvo's "Pirates" promotion — as part of its MyCokeRewards program.

Odyssey also worked with Verizon to provide $26,000 worth of jewelry and other authentic items that the company has discovered on shipwrecks as prizes for their sweepstakes and promotional program.

Also as one of its many "Pirates"-themed prizes, MyCokeRewards is offering consumers the chance to win one of four trips for two to the Odyssey Explorer for a VIP marine exploration experience. Odyssey also helped Volvo place a treasure chest filled with $50,000 in gold coins and the key to a new Volvo XC90 on the bottom of the ocean as part of the automaker's online treasure hunt promotion and to shoot Volvo's commercial depicting the chest dropping to the ocean floor. Odyssey also will help Volvo recover the chest when it presents the winner of its competition with the contents.

As part of its "Pirates"-themed sweepstakes, Visa and Commerce Bank will present the winners of its promotion their treasures at fellow partner Madam Tussauds. And Gibson is providing "Pirates"-themed guitars as prizes in Verizon's promotion.

Brands have criticized studios in the past for lining up too many promotional partners on one film, alleging that so many marketing campaigns tied to the same movie makes it hard for advertisers to stand out and get noticed by consumers. But McVicar said Buena Vista has heard no such complaints from advertisers on "Pirates."

"We work very closely with our partners to ensure differentiation," she said. "We provide either category or market exclusivity whenever possible. We make sure are partners' program are complimentary as opposed to competitive in any way. And most importantly, we try to make certain each brand has ownership of their program elements or mechanics in the category in which they do business."

She declined comment on the total promotional value of the program or how much the partners were spending on their actual media buys.

Two of "Pirates' " largest and most visible promotions are with Volvo and Verizon, which both are running TV, online, print, in-store and in-theater campaigns. Volvo, which last year buried an XC90 as part of its "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" promotion, this year buried a treasure chest on the ocean floor as part of its online gaming competition called "The Hunt."

For Verizon's promotion, Buena Vista provided the wireless carrier with 29 behind-the-scenes content pieces that are available exclusively on its V Cast video service.

"Without question, it's the most content we've ever served up in the mobile space for any movie in our history," McVicar said.

Albertson's is supporting its promotion for two free movie tickets with the purchase of $25 in selected brands with TV, in-store signage, circulars and online ads. Circuit City is offering a "Pirates" gift card with downloadable wallpaper, interactive games and a variety of content and is backing the promotion with in-store point-of-sale material and "Pirates"-themed circulars. Best Buy is providing a free movie ticket offer with the purchase of any one of about a dozen Disney DVD tiles, supported in-store and with its wide circular distribution.

Visa and Commerce Bank are running a sweepstakes in which consumers are entered every time they use their credit or debit cards. Three winners will receive a trip to New York along with a map and a key to one of three treasure chests containing $10,000, $15,000 and $25,000. Each will get the treasure chest that his/her key opens at a treasure hunt event held at Madame Tussauds, which has created wax figures of Captain Jack, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann tied to "At World's End."

Gibson is selling "World's End"-themed guitars and giving more than 100 of them to Disney to use for promotional giveaways on radio, online and for print outlets. Street Surfing, makers of the new in-line action board called the Wave, is hosting a sweepstakes for the chance to win a "Pirates"-themed extreme Street Surfing collection. The program will be supported in major sporting goods stores, online and in schools as part of Street Surfing's physical fitness educational programs.

Toys "R" Us is offering a free movie pass with any "Pirates" merchandise purchase of $25 or more and supporting the promotion in-store and in circulars. Starwood Hotels hosted an online auction that gave Starwood rewards members the chance to use their points to receive two tickets for the world premiere, which was held Saturday at Disneyland.

In addition to all of its other partnerships, Odyssey has provided shipwreck artifacts for Disney's promotional use in 52 field markets.