Tie-In Marketers Unfazed By Lackluster Blockbusters

Most blockbuster sequels failed to meet box-office expectations this summer, but marketers such as Heineken, Cadillac and Panasonic, which had tie-ins to some films, gave their deals a thumbs-up despite the dropoff in ticket sales.

Many of the 15 summer sequels did not draw the number of moviegoers that studios and industry observers expected. “Any sequel that made $100 million should be regarded as a success, because sequels underperformed this summer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations in Encino, Calif. Only about one-third—including Bad Boyz II, Terminator 3, X-Men2, 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Matrix Reloaded—passed that symbolic mark.

But marketers seemed unfazed by the lackluster box-office take and are already developing new partnerships. Brand entertainment firm Norm Marshall & Associates in Sun Valley, Calif., for instance, has signed up Heineken and Samsung for The Matrix Revolutions, which hits theaters in November, and General Motors’ Saturn for the sequel to Spider-Man, due out next July.

Several marketers noted that the DVD aftermarket boosts audiences after the theatrical release, so the books are still open on the films’ final numbers.

In terms of marketing expenses, many sequel deals are low-risk, high-reward opportunities, said Steven Marrs, CEO of Brand Entertainment Studios in New York, who estimated that companies can pay anything from nothing to only a few million dollars for placement. “How much cash changes hands is minimal,” Marrs said, adding that advertisers spend much more on TV, radio and print ads to promote their participation in a movie sequel.

“If you have product placement and promotion and the movie is not a success, you do get some value,” added Michael Kassan, a Los Angeles-based brand-entertainment consultant.

For Gene Kelsey, vp of Panasonic’s brand strategy group in Secaucus, N.J., the tie-in with the Tomb Raider sequel for the SV-AV30 audio-visual recorder had legs longer than Lara Croft’s. The Paramount sequel made only $54 million, but the fact that Angelina Jolie’s character “is in an action movie, geared toward adventure and use of gadgets, lends itself to the product,” Kelsey said. (New York agency Buzz Grey played a spot’s tagline—”It’s simply perfect for saving the day”—off the gadget’s recording function in a $4 million campaign still running on Panasonic’s Web site alongside the trailer.)

Rob Lopez, national marketing manager at Panasonic’s car-audio division, got a double-bump from Universal’s 2 Fast 2 Furious. The “tuner” product appeared in another marketer’s hero car, a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, bringing “both industries together on the big screen,” Lopez said. It worked: Panasonic saw May-to-May sales rise significantly, and “the movie definitely played a role,” Lopez said.

Meanwhile, the launch of Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution, the star car, coincided with the 2F2F’s release, and the Deutsch/LA co-branded spot tested as one of Mitsubishi’s highest recalled and favored, said Greg Stahl, director of advertising for the Cyprus, Calif., company.

Marketers watch movies introduce their products and demonstrate their functionality. Columbia’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle kicked off Sony Ericsson’s T616 right on schedule, said Jun Hosoki, vp of marketing at the company’s home in Research Triangle Park, N.C. “We had a special request that the first use of the T616 camera phone should be in the picture itself: The director really wanted to take pictures of the bad guys, send the pictures over the Cingular network and see it on a PC,” said Hosoki. “Our target user was tech-savvy, young, fashionable”—in short, Lucy Liu.

That’s the demo clients are often after—from Terminator 3’s association of Arnold Schwarzenegger with the Toyota Tundra and the Indian Chief T3 Limited Edition motorcycle to Keanu Reeves’ breeze past a Heineken sign. But, said Pattie Falch, associate brand manager for Heineken in White Plains, N.Y., “the bigger piece is being able to put up point-of-sale or television commercials that link Heineken to The Matrix”—which the company did, through Publicis, New York.

General Motors used the Warner Bros. vehicle to skew its luxury-line Cadillacs to a younger demographic, said Steve Tihanyi, GM general director of marketing alliances in Detroit. “The goal was not pure awareness building but creating buzz and coolness for the Cadillac brand, making it relevant, hip, young—the car that Elvis drove,” he said.

GM research showed it worked, Tihanyi claimed, with audiences favoring the brand 37 percent more after seeing the movie. GM built prototype parts of future Caddies just for the movie. Jeep worked it in reverse: The Wrangler Rubicon Tomb Raider model got a limited-edition production run by audience request, said Suraya Da Sante, marketing communications manager in Auburn Hills, Mich. “The association hits a lot of key words for us: authenticity, mastery, freedom,” Da Sante said.