Clothes Make the Teen

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Movie companies aren't getting rid of their costume budgets yet, but if deals with apparel manufacturers keep proliferating, they might be able to. Recently, two feature films and a TV show have lined up tie-in deals with clothing companies that live and die by teen consumers. These agreements give the movies added exposure through the company's ads and publicity, while delivering the critical buzz needed to keep the brands hot in the fickle-but lucrative-teen market.

"The teen target is one of the most difficult audiences to reach effectively," says Keith Snelgrove, MGM's senior vice president of worldwide promotions and sponsorships. They are desirable because "they're trend leaders and they've got the money."

In MGM's April 2 release The Mod Squad, the three hip crime fighters wear Levi's throughout the feature film. In return, the jeans maker's TV commercials and print ads promote the movie.

Other deals include Tommy Jeans linking to Dimension Films' The Faculty, and use of J.Crew's clothing line in the WB network show Dawson's Creek. "The top two teen habits are buying clothes and going to the movies," Snelgrove says, explaining the logic of the recent trend of apparel company tie-ins to teen properties. The latest poll of "cool" activities from Chicago-based Teenage Research Unlimited backs that up (see Population Update, page 36). Snelgrove says the movie deal is a perfect fit because it combines both.

More and more, apparel companies are embracing young-adult leisure activities, says Alyse Kobin, president of the eponymous New York City marketing firm. She helped put together the now famous Ray-Ban Men in Black campaign that served as a sort of a blueprint for The Mod Squad tie-in, says Mark Malinowski, Levi's manager of TV and film sponsorships.

With teens constantly bombarded with choices, the market is more fractured today than ever, Kobin says. But linking to a hit movie like Men in Black, she says, "is one way to get to a lot of segments. If marketers execute their promo effectively, then they'll get new users." The deal not only raised Ray-Ban sales, but also pushed profits for Sunglass Hut: The retailer used Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith movie standees in every store to reinforce the link between Ray-Bans and the film.

Tommy Hilfiger developed a promotion for Tommy Jeans tied to the December release of The Faculty because of the "youthful hip factor," says Miramax's John Polwrek, senior vice president of worldwide promotions. The Faculty, written by the prolific Kevin Williamson-the creator of Dawson's Creek-is a sci-fi thriller in which the students battle alien teachers. The tie-in was standard in some ways: Hilfiger, just like Levi's, paid no money to have its clothes in the film, but it did make the movie's young stars the centerpiece of the company's estimated $20 million back-to-school and holiday advertising campaign. Tommy Jeans TV commercials, shot on the movie's set, played up the company's relationship with the film by running a sort of movie credits scroll: "Written by Kevin Williamson, Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Starring Tommy Jeans." A close look at the TV buys-MTV, VH1, BET, and Comedy Central-shows how the company avoided pricey network TV to better target its key audience, 15-to-24-year-olds. Media buys in Seventeen, Rolling Stone, and Interview complemented the commercials.

One benefit for the studio was the amount of time the company stayed with the Faculty theme. Ads started in July for the December release, almost before the trailer was released, Polwrek says. After September, Hilfiger continued to use the tie-in during its holiday advertising.

Just like in The Faculty, the impressions made by Levi's-clad Claire Danes, Omar Epps, and Giovanni Ribisi in The Mod Squad won't end with the credits. In its first integrated marketing campaign with a Hollywood movie, Levi's will run a multimillion-dollar campaign with national TV and print ads, unveil a new 12-piece clothing line based on the movie's "mod" look, and back a contest that will give away the classic Lincoln Continental car used in the movie.

"We have as much at stake in The Mod Squad as MGM does," says Malinowski. While the company's publicity will help hype the movie's release, Malinowski hopes the campaign will be an important part of updating Levi's image.

Since 1990, the jeans maker's share of the women's and men's denim jean market has slipped from 31 percent to 16.9 percent. When Levi Strauss & Co. president Peter Jacobi retired in January, the company said its main goal was to reconnect with the 15-to-24-year-olds who have increasingly turned to other labels.

Both movie deals are derivative of J.Crew's link to Dawson's Creek. Not only is the cast dressed in Crew gear, but the retailer gets a credit at the end of each show, and even used the stars for its Spring '98 catalog. Dawson and other youth-oriented fare, like Felicity, have combined to make the WB network top-rated among teens.

And Dawson's power extends beyond the small screen. The WB show wanted its star, aspiring filmmaker Dawson, played by James Van Der Beek, to cover his walls with Spielberg movie posters. During the first year, the show had to ask repeatedly for permission to show them. But the second year, Spielberg made sure there was a Saving Private Ryan poster in Dawson's room. Spielberg isn't the only Hollywood power to realize the appeal of Van Der Beek. He was cast in Paramount's Varsity Blues, which led the box office for two weeks in January, and in three weeks it racked up $39 million in receipts.

But linking to a movie can also be risky business. Last summer's can't-miss epic Godzilla might not have flopped with $136 million in domestic box office receipts, but it certainly underperformed. The movie carried a glut of tie-in deals, including Taco Bell, Duracell, Hershey's, and Kodak. While some partners, notably Taco Bell, reported sales increases for the promotion period, other partners, particularly licensees, still have back rooms full of unsold lizard gear.

DreamWorks' animated Small Soldiers surprised partner Burger King when it was nailed with a PG-13 rating. The restaurant chain had planned to make the movie's toys part of its Kids Club meals, aimed at youngsters 10 and under. To save face, the restaurant gave away the toys with a warning to parents that the movie, which grossed $53 million, might not be appropriate for their children. Even last year's Babe: Pig in the City suffered at the box office because of a general perception that the G-rated movie was a little too dark for most kiddies.

That's why when picking a property, many marketers use the same formula studios have been using for years-sequels are safe because they come with a built-in audience. This summer, Star Wars: Episode I-The PhantomMenace will be the event of the year; Pepsi, Frito-Lay, and Tricon Global Restaurants (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC) will be the exclusive partners. Pepsi will feature an instant-win game centered around a golden Yoda can, while the restaurants will offer prizes for customers who collect various game pieces.

On a smaller scale is New Line's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The first Mike Meyers movie was a surprise hit with twentysomethings; while the movie never made the No. 1 spot, its video stayed at the top of the charts for 40 weeks. This summer's sequel carries a deal with Heineken that gives the beer maker product placement and allows it to introduce an Austin Powers gear catalog, in return for hyping the movie through TV commercials and in-store point-of-purchase displays in thousands of liquor stores. A tie-in deal with Philips hasn't been formally announced yet, but the electronics company tipped its hand when it used a scene from the new Powers movie during its Super Bowl ad.

Just as studios have tapped into the power teens have to make or break movies and careers, marketers are realizing that the right Hollywood tie-in can revitalize their brands and sales in the fickle world of teen tastes.

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