Media Plan of the Year: Spending Over $25 Million – Universal McCann/McCann Entertainment

Oh, sure—in retrospect, it looks as easy as swinging on a web. But the folks at McCann Entertainment, a unit of McCann-Erickson, Los Angeles, had a superhero-sized job before them launching the movie Spider-Man in May 2002. Spidey is Marvel Comics’ premier property, and Columbia TriStar had made a big investment in the property with an untested star, Tobey Maguire. And by taking that early-May pole position, notes Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing for the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, Spider-Man was shouldering “a huge responsibility to launch the summer” for the whole movie industry.

We need hardly remind you of the Summer of Spidey, with record-setting box office of more than $400 million domestically and $800 million worldwide, nor of the hundreds of millions more in DVD sales. As Ammer is quick to point out: “You can’t do this kind of business without an extraordinary movie, and once we saw it, we knew we had a picture that played from 8 [years old] to 80.” The good folks at McCann devised a media plan to bring all segments of that broad audience to a fever pitch of anticipation.

The effort actually started the summer prior to the feature’s release with a teaser trailer in movie theatres that pictured Spider-Man dangling some bad guys in a web weaved between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. After 9/11, the studio and agency withdrew the trailer.

McCann launched the media campaign proper with a stunt around Thanksgiving time. Posters of Spider-Man and nemesis Green Goblin were plastered on bus shelters in top-10 markets, with 15 Spidey posters to every Goblin one. Fans were urged to find the Goblin posters and log in their locations at the film’s Web site. “We knew die-hard Spider-Man fans are really big on the Internet,” says Alfa O’Neill, executive vp/gm of McCann Entertainment. The stunt drew scores to the Web site. Many of the posters were stolen by Spidey-crazed fans. “That’s always a good sign,” O’Neill says. “We love that.”

The exec points out: “For a big summer film, you want to create an event.” What better way to kick off a broadcast campaign than by using the biggest TV event of them all? Spider-Man spots first appeared during the Super Bowl. “If you’re not funny, you need something you know will get noticed, and we did,” O’Neill says.

The media plan that followed was carefully tailored to reach every Spider-Man constituency. “We had a big, broad movie,” O’Neill explains, “but there were things in it that were specifically interesting to certain groups, so we started targeting our messages. For instance, young women went nuts for [the upside-down kiss]. Men were more drawn to all that beautiful CGI swooping and the good-versus-evil stuff. So we put a very different message in, say, Charmed and Buffy than we did in NCAA basketball.”

“We tailored every single spot,” adds Ammer. “Females want to know there’s that romance, so the love story aspect has to be created and placed in media. But you’ve got to be careful not to turn off the hardcore fan. Parents needed to understand that it was a safe film to take their children to, but also that they’d have a good time, too, to avoid them just dropping off their kids. The planning of it was incredible: We were going after teens, adults, males, females, kids, ethnics—it was really five to seven campaigns rolled into one.”

“Our plan utilized and created media stunts to keep the pacing of the campaign at an event level,” says O’Neill. High-profile broadcast outlets included March Madness basketball, the Survivor premiere, May prime-time finales, MTV’s Spring Break weekend and Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, which featured a live appearance by Spidey himself. There were some two dozen custom-designed media stunts: late-night blitzes with spots stripped for a week, prime-time checkerboards, roadblocks on key nights, all-day saturations. Vehicles included sports; female dramas; prime-time hits; morning and late-night shows; daytime dramas; ethnic networks; Nick and Cartoon Network; and a heavy pitch on MTV and Comedy Central.

“It took a lot of planning, but we did things with great expertise and precision,” says Ammer. “It’s not so easy to do—you might be weighted too heavily one way or the other. But we were able to cherry pick those high-profile opportunities. We did stunts almost every other day in a relentless effort to leave no stone unturned in any daypart or demo. We effectively looked like we went from January to May without losing steam.”

Non-broadcast media were also an important part of McCann’s plan. The outdoor effort emblazoned the striking Spider-Man imagery on everything from wall spectaculars to phone kiosks. Kids were targeted in print with Sports Illustrated for Kids and comic books. Another program put ads on school lunch trays. Radio was employed in a half-dozen young-skewing formats. Print appeals fleshed out the campaign—a series of ads had images of Spider-Man overlaid with movie theater directories in key newspaper markets.

McCann actually took a cue from the film’s hero. “We wanted the campaign to feel like a web, like it’s everywhere,” says O’Neill. “We started small and kept growing, radiating outward, and we wanted it to be very sticky and to capture the audience.”

By the time Spider-Man opened, awareness of the film was at 99 percent. “I was looking for that one percent,” Ammer jokes. “Were they on vacation on Mars? I don’t know who or what these people are.”

“These kinds of movies don’t come along very often,” adds O’Neill. “When you hit one like this, it’s magic.” Eric Schmuckler is a Mediaweek contributing writer.