How One Marketer Got Around Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell

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The Deal: A number of consumer brands have high-profile product placement in Sony Pictures’ upcoming feature film Bewitched, but the exposure didn’t give the marketers access to one of the most important elements of a cross-promotion -– the talent.

The Result: The marketers are not co-promoting the movie, though Sony executives did find a few partners who found ways to work around the talent issue.

When the feature film inspired by the classic '60s sitcom Bewitched opens Friday, a plethora of consumer brands will share
Though the image doesn't show 'Bewitched' stars Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, it was enough for promotional partner Robeks.

screen time alongside Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine and the rest of the cast.

But marketers such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Gorton’s of Gloucester, Volkswagen of America, Pillsbury and Newman’s Own opted not extend that coveted in-content exposure into off-screen promotions, which companies often do. The reason underscores a major challenge for Hollywood studios looking to promote films -– talent sometimes just doesn’t want to play.

Oscar-winner guards her image

For Sony Pictures, whose executives declined to comment, the hurdle in finding promotional partners for Bewitched centered on the reluctance of Oscar-winner Ms. Kidman and other actors in allowing marketers to use their likenesses. It’s a common problem that has become even more vexing to studio marketers as they try to engage corporate America and drum up as much pre-release publicity as possible for their films, especially in the packed summer months.

A-listers such as Halle Berry and Angelina Jolie have appeared in co-promotional spots for recent films, but only in character. Ms. Berry did so as Catwoman for that film's link to Kahlua and Jaguar, and Ms. Jolie showed up in Jeep spots as the videogame-vixen-turned-big-screen-adventurer Lara Croft in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider The Cradle of Life.

Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg recently broke their long-standing policies against co-promotions by appearing in a Hitatchi campaign that salutes their filmmaking careers. The ads also hype their upcoming movie War of the Worlds from Paramount Pictures.

Other stars, often those at the top of the Hollywood hierarchy, do not allow their images to be used at all. Jim Carrey falls into that camp, as does Keanu Reeves and Ms. Kidman, whose films aren’t often very promo-friendly, anyway.

Not prepared to be ad spokesmen

“There are still some old-school, church-and-state attitudes,” said Brad Ball, principal of branded entertainment firm Ball Entertainment Group and a former marketing executive at Warner Bros. “Talent will do what’s right for the movie promotionally, but they aren’t prepared to become ad spokesmen, which is how they view these deals.”

Stars might need to re-examine that approach, Mr. Ball said, in light of the current box-office malaise. Even with the recent strong opening of Warner Bros.’ Batman Begins, the box office is in its 17th-straight weekend of decline, tying a dubious record set 20 years ago. Overall, receipts are down about 7% this year compared to last.

Marketing support, above and beyond what studios spend, is crucial.

“Does anybody believe that competition for eyeballs will get easier?” Mr. Ball said.

Pivotal scene crammed with marketers

In Bewitched, pivotal scenes take place in and around Bed, Bath & Beyond and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. An extended shopping spree at a grocery store shows Mr. Caine’s character popping up as famous packaged goods icons like the Gorton’s fisherman, the Pillsbury Green Giant and Paul Newman on Newman’s Own Popcorn, much like the prankster Paul Lynde did as Uncle Arthur in the original TV series. Ms. Kidman’s character zips around town in a cheery yellow VW Beetle convertible. A clip of Ms. Kidman and Mr. Caine shopping in Bed, Bath & Beyond was shown on Oprah. The retailer, as well as Mr. Caine talking to Ms. Kidman's character on Gorton's packaging, also appeared in the film's trailers on television and in theaters.

While those brands are not promoting the movie, the film found co-marketers in two brands that have no product placement at all -– California-based smoothie and health food chain Robeks Corp. and retailer Macy’s. Visa USA, which also doesn’t appear in the movie, did some local market screenings.

Robek’s, a growing chain that competes with the likes of Jamba Juice, is running a promotion dubbed “Berry Bewitched Summer” around its berry-filled drinks that features a sweepstakes with a trip to a Hollywood premiere as the prize.

Using a similar ad image

To get around the talent issues, the chain is using an image of a man and woman (presumably the movie’s Samantha and Darren) riding on a broomstick suspended in air. It’s similar to artwork being used to tout the film, only the chain's image shows characters from the waist down. It looks enough like the movie’s poster that an observer would assume the image is of Ms. Kidman and Mr. Ferrell in the ad, but their faces aren’t shown. Robek’s 70 stores are littered with the imagery, though visions of life-sized Ms. Kidman standees holding smoothie cups danced only in the company executives’ heads.

“We would’ve loved to use the likenesses -- and I asked -- but it wasn’t possible,” said Mitch Baker, director of marketing at Robek’s. “I think we were able to tie the message together anyway.”

Though a small player, Robek’s is no stranger to the Hollywood game. The chain had product placement in female-targeted flicks Legally Blonde and Sleepover, with promotions attached. In the case of Bewitched, the film was already in post-production when talks started about a potential Robek’s tie-in.

Macy's window displays

Macy’s, which created window displays based on the film, is selling a Bewitched-inspired t-shirt that gives consumers a free movie ticket with purchase. An accompanying contest offers the chance to win a VW Beetle convertible like the one in the movie. To skirt the talent issue, the t-shirt uses an animated image from the classic TV show with the slogan, “I am a Witch,” and flying broomstick imagery similar to Robek’s campaign.

The partners’ promotions are aimed squarely at women aged 18 to 49, the most likely fans of the movie, which is the latest in a long line of TV-inspired remakes. Still to come this summer is Dukes of Hazzard, following in the footsteps of such hits as Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels, with a big-screen Miami Vice scheduled for next year.
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