More family friendly in '05: Hollywood swaps sandals for tie-ins

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Filled with Sci Fi, fantasy and sword-and-sandal epics, Hollywood's slate this year provided marketers with fewer chances to connect their products to film properties. That will change in 2005 as studios prepare promo-friendly comedies; animated and live-action family fare, remakes and sequels; and less R-rated titles.

This year was "never intended to turn off advertisers. That was never the plan. It just happened that way," said one studio's marketing chief. "But you can bet, with movies getting more expensive to open, that probably won't happen again."

good year

"Next year is absolutely a good year for brands," said Tom Meyer, senior VP at Davie-Brown Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based product placement agency. "There's a lot of opportunity for brands to get involved."

This year, films like "Troy," "King Arthur," "The Alamo," "Van Helsing," "The Chronicles of Riddick," "The Village" and "Alexander" dominated the slate, forcing promotional partners to sit on the sidelines and spend their marketing dollars elsewhere, namely TV.

Marketing mavens anticipate "Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Fantastic Four," "Batman Begins," "War of the Worlds," "The Pink Panther," "The Legend of Zorro" and "Madagascar" to be big draws at the box office next summer.

The overall pattern of marketers' 2005 buy-ins is also expected to change. This year, multiple advertisers frontloaded promotions to a handful of films like "Shrek 2," "Spider-Man 2" and "The Incredibles." But brand representatives said next year's tie-in deals will be spread out across a broader variety of films. "Brands don't want to be in a movie if there are 10 other partners," Mr. Meyer said.

Another reason: More marketers are testing the waters of branded entertainment at the same time studios struggle to control soaring movie marketing costs. The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that in 2003, it cost $34 million to market a movie, a 28% increase over the previous year. Summer marketing budgets easily top $50 million, and with studios opening more films worldwide, costs are only expected to increase further.

"The family audience is doing tremendous numbers at the box office," said Devery Holmes, president of placement shop NMA Entertainment, Los Angeles. "Marketers want to tap into that excitement." And with films like "Shrek 2" generating well over $200 million at the domestic box office, cases like "The Incredibles" attracting $150 million in extra marketing muscle from partners should become the norm, rather than the exception next year, marketers said.

Nonetheless, some advertisers are showing signs of disappointment. The fourth installment of the Harry Potter franchise will likely remain promo free. And some big titles that brands had counted on backing have moved out of 2005 entirely, including the next installment of the James Bond franchise, typically a magnet for promo partners, and the third outing of the "Mission Impossible" series. Despite being considered event films, "Batman Begins," "War of the Worlds" and "King Kong" are also seen as too dark in tone and action for many brands.

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