Amazon jumps on Internet-film trend

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Amazon is going Hollywood again this holiday season with a series of five short films for its Web site that use big-name talent behind and in front of the camera.

Details of the films couldn't be obtained, although the effort will subtly emphasize the full range of products the online retailer sells. Actors Daryl Hannah and Chris Noth of "Sex and the City" fame are among the talent used, according to a person with knowledge of the films. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has championed and been involved in the film effort, said a person familiar with the push.

Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis-a trailblazer in the branded-entertainment space after it rolled out the much-lauded BMW Films in 2001-is handling the effort. United Talent Agency oversaw the talent selection.

`question of execution'

Representatives for Amazon and Fallon declined to comment. UTA executives could not be reached.

Web films are a logical way for Amazon-which eschews traditional advertising-to target consumers, said Aditya Kishore, a senior analyst covering media and entertainment for the consultant Yankee Group.

"The majority of Amazon consumers are Web-savvy and they're comfortable with multimedia on the Web and are more likely to respond," he said. He added the films' success depends on their quality. "It's really a question of execution."

Amazon is hardly a stranger to branded entertainment. It generated some heat last year with the launch of the Holiday A-List, in which celebrities provided exclusive bits of content and recommended holiday gifts on the site's home page. A diverse lineup of well-known musicians, writers and public figures participated in that effort, from Jack Black, Bruce Springsteen and the Counting Crows to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Newt Gingrich and Tom Brokaw.

sneak peek at `notebook'

Amazon did not pay the celebrities, who provided such content as original essays, new songs and behind-the-scenes tidbits from their music videos, movies and TV shows for the A-List.

Further linking itself with entertainment, in June, Amazon also offered an exclusive advance look at a scene from "The Notebook." That same month, it ran a video stream of an interview with the Beastie Boys.

The latest effort is driven by Amazon's desire to emphasize the full breadth of products it sells. While best known for books and CDs, it also sells everything from furniture to jewelry.

For the six months ended June 30, Amazon's sales rose 34% over the year-ago period to $2.92 billion. It posted $187.6 million in net income during the six months vs. a loss of $53.4 million a year earlier.

The Amazon film project also highlights Fallon's drive to be a leader in branded entertainment. Its BMW Films remain the best-known foray in the still-evolving category. The agency showed its commitment to the category when it tapped Rob Buchner, its point person on branded entertainment and liaison with Hollywood, as its new chief marketing officer. He succeeded Mark Goldstein, who left to become global chief marketing officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe.

nontraditional

David Lubars, Fallon's former chief creative officer, also championed branded entertainment. He was tapped by Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, as top creative in June-ousting longtime leader Ted Sann-to develop nontraditional marketing approaches.

Films are becoming an increasingly common way for marketers to tout their brands. American Express Co. this year created "Webisodes" featuring Jerry Seinfeld hanging out with Superman. Chanel is creating a mini-movie starring Nicole Kidman for Chanel No. 5.

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