The entertainment division did some major cyber listening to drum up hype for the DVD release today of a spiffed-up version of the original animated "Transformers" movie. They figured that by finding and talking to hard-core fans around the world, they could position the product so it would appeal to the devotees and potentially snare a new generation of followers.
Bigger plans for property
The release of the special-edition DVD and the marketing around it are part of a larger plan for the property. The brand shepherds -- including Hasbro, Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks -- are hoping the 20th anniversary of the first "Transformers" movie will jump-start interest in next summer's $100 million-plus live-action feature film directed by Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor," "The Island").
The property has a dedicated, vocal fan base that has been busy talking and blogging about the feature for months, posting covertly shot photos from the set and participating in a live online chat with the writers. The movie's entire script was posted online for a short time, though producers denied that it was the authentic shooting script. A Google search of "Transformers" and "Michael Bay" turns up 229,000 results.
"We're taking a page from 'Spider-Man' and 'Star Wars,'" Brian Goldner, chief operating officer of Hasbro, said recently. "We're re-setting the clock so people will have a new frame of reference for a classic property."
Sony BMG executives tapped sibling Sony Online Entertainment to get the trailer for DVD embedded at the beginning of massive multiplayer online games such as "EverQuest 2," "The Matrix Online," "Planetside" and other sci-fi titles. A Sony Online alliance with Massive Entertainment will spread the DVD trailer even further into the game world, hitting the key male demographics.
Buzz on teen social-networking site
TagWorld, a teen social-networking site, is heavily promoting the DVD via trailers, video playlists, customized widgets, user-generated contests, blogs and news feeds.
Feedback from fans resulted in elaborate packaging for the two-disc DVD set, which includes a trivia game with content supplied by "Transformer" loyalists. "Transformers" centers on alien robots that can morph into different objects and revolves around two warring factions, the Autobots and the Decepticons.
"We wanted to make a DVD that would be a tribute to the property," said Isabel Miller, senior VP-marketing at Sony BMG Entertainment, the division releasing the "Transformers: The Movie" on DVD. "We collaborated with the fans, and it became a seamless process from product development to marketing."
The property spawned nine different animated TV shows after Hasbro imported it to the U.S. in the '80s, has racked up more than $3 billion in retail sales for toys and other merchandise over the last two decades. Those working on the brand are eager to tap into the ardent sci-fi and fantasy community to build buzz for "Transformers," much the way other marketers have done for successful superhero franchises.
A first-of-its-kind deal with DirecTV had the animated movie airing as a pay-per-view event today, with fans receiving a copy of the DVD with their $12.95 PPV purchase.
A heavy dose of nostalgia
Hasbro is launching lines of "Transformer" products with a heavy dose of nostalgia, including classic characters such as Optimus Prime, and will promote the DVD on toy packaging. The company plans several waves of "Transformer" merchandise leading up to the live-action feature film, which will have numerous pop-culture touchstones and extensive product integration from General Motors Corp. and other marketers.
Aside from online activity, Sony BMG executives also linked with mall retailer Hot Topic for contests and exclusive product. High-traffic mass merchants Costco and Wal-Mart also will promote the property, as will comic-book stores and specialty retailers. Street teams will fan out across college campuses, giving out "Transformers" swag and organizing local events.