By Published on .

Most Popular
When "godzilla" was storming through the country's theaters last summer to post the biggest box-office opening weekend of 1998, Sony Pictures Entertainment Marketing President Robert Levin was grappling with another monster -- an entire restructuring of the studio's marketing divisions.

The marketing structure Mr. Levin has implemented is the first and only time in Hollywood's history that it has been attempted.


Movie marketing "is a unique combination of package-goods, positive brand-image creation and running a weekend retail sale," says Mr. Levin. "It all happens in a very swift period of time. You start with something no one has ever heard of, and then you have to get people to sit up and say that's something I want to see. Once you do that, it becomes entirely retail."

The former adman with Needham, Harper & Steers and McCann-Erickson was hired in 1985 by then-Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg to head the studio's feature film marketing division.

At the time, Mr. Levin's arrival was measured with a jaundiced eye in a town where marketing chiefs usually rose up from the ranks of feature film publicity. He was an outsider with no movie marketing experience who had worked on the Sears, Roebuck & Co. account.


Although today it is not uncommon for marketing presidents to come from other disciplines -- such as Arthur Cohen from Revlon, Brad Ball from McDonald's Corp. or John Cywinski from Burger King Corp. -- Mr. Levin was breaking new ground.

The first lesson he learned was the vast difference between advertising and theatrical marketing.

"When I first went to Disney, I was surprised at the organizational structure in that they had various marketing divisions with little to no communication between them and really no overall strategy," says Mr. Levin. "The initial budgets were segmented. I basically went in and took the account executive role and put all of these various budgets under one, main marketing budget."

During the time that Mr. Levin worked on films such as "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" he wanted to implement a new approach in film marketing.


His idea was to hire, in essence, account execs to market each film. However, the Disney structure was too rigid to change so drastically.

After 10 years at Disney with a track record of hits including "Dead Poets Society," "Pretty Woman" and "The Lion King," Mr. Levin moved to an independent production company, the now-defunct Savoy Pictures. But the thought of revamping feature film marketing never left him.

"It had been on my mind ever since," says Mr. Levin, who credited the Japanese and studio Chairman John Calley for supporting the concept at Sony.


With the 1999 film slate, Sony Pictures Entertainment will see the first results of what has been a year of planning and a 10-year dream for Mr. Levin.

Under the executive's new approach, marketing teams follow each film from inception to release.

A market service center was established for efficiency and to cut down on redundant spending. Marketing people from each division inside Sony regularly gather together to communicate any special needs they have to better market the product.

In addition, a bonus compensation is linked to the performance of the film. One of the most important additions was to establish what Mr. Levin calls a "marketing bible" for each movie identifying the target audience for a given film, its creative strategy, positioning and finally a post-release analysis.


"It places a greater emphasis on the strategic part of marketing," he says. "Left to its own devices, marketing becomes tactical. When I came back to the studio, I was surprised how little things had changed organizationally. There was an alarming lack of flow of communication from one department to the next; there was a redundancy of effort. This changes that. There is a real discipline now."

Although the sea change in marketing is still just taking effect, Mr. Levin looks back at what he says has been a year that had some solid marketing successes.

"We got a lot of good performances out of movies that we expected only medium performances from," he says, citing "Can't Hardly Wait," "Urban Legend" and "Knock Off."


Of course, then there was the green lizard.

"Godzilla" was harshly criticized by the press for being overhyped by the Sony marketing machine.

"I still scratch my head about the overhyped charge," says Mr. Levin. "The press got caught up in it and then got mad at itself when they felt the picture didn't deliver."

With a smart and memorable outdoor ad campaign, Sony rode the hype all the way to the bank. The nation's theater owners were jazzed about the next film from "Independence Day" filmmakers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich and cleared the way for Sony to launch the film on 7,363 screens.

Sony smartly kept the buzz alive by keeping photos of the lizard secret as the press clamored for any exclusive look at the lizard.


The challenge, he says, was not to become completely absorbed in "Godzilla."

"We needed to try and become the big-event movie of the summer without losing sight of all the other summer films," Mr. Levin says.

Aside from the critics, what of "Godzilla's" bottom line? That overhyped lizard to date has generated $136 million domestically and $376 million worldwide at the box office; a sequel is being discussed.

In this article: