Leaving no demographic untouched, executives at Universal Studios Partnerships have linked with Burger King Corp., Nestle, Kellogg Co., Volkswagen of America, JP Morgan Chase and Toshiba for co-marketing programs that start as early as this month for the Dec. 14 release. The city of New York, in a rare film promotion, also will play a role in launching the PG-13 action adventure that stars Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody. The total estimated promotional value from the partners is $100 million, on top of an expected $30 million-plus in studio spending.
The need for tie-ins is crucial this year as Hollywood counts on the all-important fourth quarter to make up for a dismal box office, down 8% as consumers hole up with home-theater systems, the Internet, video games and time-shifted TV programs. And at least for now, Universal has some momentum on its side: After a middling year, its "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" pulled in about $50 million in its first two weekends.
Though remakes have generally fared poorly this year, multiple Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson and the studio are taking pains to emphasize this "King Kong" is not a retread of the well-known 1933 classic or its `70s update. Mr. Jackson, whose "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has made him a film fanatic's hero, is helping to produce some of the promotional partners' ad campaigns, with custom digital effects that blend the marketers' icons with the movie's characters.
Universal has linked with Kellogg and Nestle for some kid- and teen-centric promotions on cereals and candy bars. Burger King, Toshiba, Chase and Volkswagen aim for adults with giant-size "King Kong" food, new technology products linked to the movie's themes, a "Kong" credit card and outreach through car dealerships and high-traffic car shows (see chart, right).
"The quality of the partners is more important than ever," said Stephanie Sperber, exec VP, Universal Studios Partnerships, "as is having complementary marketing messages. Our partners will get us into places we wouldn't normally be, like car dealerships and magazines."
Chase, an NBC Universal corporate partner, will run its "Kong" credit-card promotion through the fourth quarter, a pivotal time for consumer spending.
Volkswagen, a corporate partner, premiered the "Kong" trailer on its Web site in June, with a 100-fold increase in traffic as a result. Its ads, centered on the Touareg sports utility vehicle, will show how the car was used by the "Kong" crew in making the movie in tough-to-reach New Zealand locations. There will be 5,000 "King Kong" branded Touaregs produced.
For Universal, it was important to have a mix of marketers, both traditional grocery-store brands and adult-targeted products and services. "This isn't `Curious George,' so we didn't want to be in every aisle, just adding to the noise at holiday time," Ms. Sperber said. "We ... didn't go for the typical players in the typical categories."