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Hollywood Not-So-Confidential: Learn The Movie Industry's Blockbuster Marketing Secrets

By Karen Akers

Movie studios are masters at ramping up the excitement level for upcoming productions. Take a page out of their screenplay and adapt these marketing strategies to make your next promotion a smash hit.

Talk about creating a buzz ... when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was ready to hit theaters, Alliance Atlantis wanted a promotional product that shared in the movie's sense of twisted horror. What promotional consultant Andrew Rotenberg came up with was a fun twist on a relatively common item, the stressball. Not only was the stressball made to resemble the movie's signature weapon, but it even emulated the sound and vibrated with the pull of a string.

Given to theatergoers, the media, students on college campuses and others, the item became an instant hit. "The cult status [of the movie] probably had something to do with it. But since it was such a unique item it became hot immediately," Rotenberg says. "When something like this is up on eBay in two days, it means it's highly successful." The movie was pretty successful too, enjoying opening weekend sales of $28.1 million.

When it comes to sizzling self-promotion, no one does it quite like Hollywood. Our movie-marketing experts share their secrets of creating buzz-worthy promotions, and how to use their techniques to shine the spotlight on your next marketing campaign.

Personality Pops
We all know that Hollywood is all about image, so it's no surprise that one of the things film marketers do best is project the concept of a movie. Whether it's the preview trailer, freestanding lobby display or movie poster, marketing materials all convey a central theme for the movie they're promoting.

"If you look at a film title treatment or a film poster, for instance, there are indicators of all the elements that will tell you that this film is horror, or action, it's got a little bit of humor in it, it's full of pretty people, whatever it is," says promotional consultant Kevin Bush. "Along the same lines, we try to help a client that is a hospital or a company define what their brand is to their particular audience."

Successful Sequels
One thing that movie marketers do really well is create a unified message for a film. From festivals to opening night to DVD releases, they work to establish a strong identity for the movie.

One such project that Rotenberg's company worked on was for The Lord Of The Rings. Talk about continuity - LOTR was made up of three successive films, each one released separately in theaters, then given a regular and collector's edition DVD release. To promote Lord Of The Rings, the company designed T-shirts for movie goers and theater workers. It also created a replica of the ring from the movie and put it on a leather necklace. "[The ring] was also used when the DVD release came out for The Two Towers - kind of like an incentive to book your DVD early and be one of the first to get it," Rotenberg says.

In the same way, a company can work with a promotional consultant to outfit its employees in corporate casual wear or trade show/event uniforms, create marketing materials and choose giveaways and incentives.

Timing Is Everything
Movie studios are just like any other company, too often waiting until the last minute to try to throw something creative together. "Sometimes the timelines are very tight," says Rotenberg. "The name of the movie changes so many times - literally up to until a month or two before the movie's out. So, often we don't have the time to create some of the more unique products we'd love to."

When studios have more lead time, their marketers can really up the creative ante. For example, take a campaign created by one promotional consultant for the DreamWorks movie Chicken Run. Since the movie was made using claymation, a time-consuming process, the company had more than enough time to plan something memorable. It decided on a yearlong promotion featuring, what else, a dozen eggs. Not real eggs of course - the promotional company searched extensively to find just the right kind of ceramic egg that would best resemble the real thing.

The first month it sent out an egg carton that appeared to be from Tweedy's Farm, a location in the film, to about 1,000 members of the media, VIPs and other influencers. In a separate box they also sent the first collectible egg, featuring an image of Rocky, a character from the movie. Over the next 11 months, people received one egg a month, each featuring a different character from the movie.

The promotion certainly was a hit. People from all over the world were calling DreamWorks for the eggs, even from as far as Australia. Allie King, DreamWorks' manager of feature films/field efforts, elaborates: "People were going crazy for these things. They wanted them badly and they would do anything to get them. In fact, when Mel Gibson [Rocky's voice], who was also to receive a set, was asked how he liked them, he answered, 'What eggs?' " Apparently, an assistant had "borrowed" them.

In fact, the campaign worked so well that the same promotional company recently created another mailing following the same idea. To get people excited about DreamWorks' Shark Tale it commissioned a custom shark-shaped case that featured an interior with a detailed setting inspired by the film.

Ten months before the movie hit theaters, the case was sent out to the media and others in position to spread the word about the upcoming release, about 1,000 people total. Each month they received a custom-sculpted figurine of a movie character to go inside the display. There was a recessed area with the character's name so recipients knew how many to expect. "A lot of planning went into it," says Bush, whose company created both the Chicken Run and Shark Tale promos. "It kept people excited."

Risk Taking Pays Off
When it comes to promoting films, the main objective is to get noticed. It becomes even more important for independent films, whose success often relies on word-of-mouth. Consequently, movie promoters appreciate the shock value of some products and are more inclined to take risks than your average corporation. "Depending on who your audience is, you have to determine how much risk you can take - you don't want to offend anybody. But at the same time you want to be unique, which is very hard when everybody's pushing the same product," Rotenberg says.

For the movie Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, a comedy about two stoner friends searching for White Castle hamburgers one night, New Line Cinema wanted a promotional item that reflected the movie's fun premise. It decided on logoed rolling papers - an item for making cigarettes that also has drug connotations. "Because of the type of film it was and the demographic that it appealed to, the rolling paper was just a good fit," says Rotenberg. "You certainly wouldn't use it for a family movie, but [the product choice is] really unique to each [movie]."

Have Some Fun
Sometimes being memorable is more important than being practical. Yes, it's great when your company gives out a product like an ice scraper, umbrella or windbreaker, and the recipient goes on to use it for an extended amount of time. The product comes in handy and your logo is right there to remind the recipient of your goodwill. But, when your time frame is specific and your need is immediate, sometimes it's better to have fun. "For studios, creating a buzz is something that has to be 'out of the box' - it's something that you get and you're like 'Wow, this is really cool. What a great idea.' You might not use it again, but you'll remember it," says Alexandra Gubser, a promotional consultant.

When New Line Cinema's Magnolia was ready to hit theaters, its marketers had street teams go around and place special logoed rubber frogs (a tie-in to a crucial scene with Tom Cruise) on the windshields of cars of people in bars, theaters and other popular nightspots. Imagine people's reactions as they approached their cars late at night only to find a realistic-looking frog on their car - it's not something that they'd soon forget. The quirky promo helped Magnolia to a $5.7-million opening weekend, the biggest opening for any of the director's films to date.

Respect The Classics
When it comes to any promotion, there's a reason why certain products have come to be known as "tried-and-true." T-shirts and posters are old-standbys in the movie biz. They can help promote the film to the many people who see them, unlike some cooler items that recipients love but few others see. For example, for the movie How To Deal, Rotenberg created link bracelets. "For everyone who gets it, it's a great gift; it's unique," he says. "But at the same time the person wearing it is the only person who knows about it." Companies have to decide which approach works best for them.

In preparation for awards season, DreamWorks worked with Gubser's company to create an item to remind recipients of upcoming Academy Award deadlines. "The custom calendar piece featured images and quotes from the film and was marked with special dates such as the deadlines for submitting nominations for the awards," Gubser says. "It was really cool."

Whether your company is a restaurant, service provider, retail establishment or doctor's office, there's no doubt it can benefit from more attention and excitement to attract clients. So give a little thought to the many ways movie marketers have done it successfully and give your promotional consultant a call. She's sure to have ideas of how your company can star in its own smash hit.

COPYRIGHT © 2005 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Karen Akers is associate editor of Successful Promotions.

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