Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. last year concocted a formula for its $300 million hit "Independence Day" that's now a model for '90s movie marketing: Get the word out way in the advance, then excite demand over a long lead time with a savvy mix of publicity, promotions and ads.
Since then, early teases for big event films from "Men in Black" to "The Lost World" have become a matter of survival in a crowded marketplace.
"The industry has changed," says John Cywinski, president of Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures Marketing unit. "There's now such a tremendous amount of films being released during the summer and fall/winter holiday seasons, producing so much more clutter. You have to find unique and innovative marketing tactics to get your film noticed."
Mr. Cywinski, 35, in fact, is preparing marketing programs for this fall and winter for three films that won't be released until summer '98. The studio will tag a preview of its next animated musical, "Mulan," to this fall's "Flubber," while "Mighty Joe Young" will get a Super Bowl spot. Disney also plans to sound the bugle early for the romantic adventure "Six Days, Seven Nights."
Marketing movies as events puts considerably more pressure on a film's opening weekend performance. A strong showing corroborates the event positioning and establishes momentum for weeks to come. So, just as Universal staked a claim to last Memorial Day weekend for "The Lost World," Sony as early as this summer was directing consumers to Memorial Day weekend 1998 for "Godzilla's" arrival.
How studios spend against elongated marketing programs is as important as the amount.
"We've never really subscribed to the tonnage theory of media spending," says Kathy Jones, 47, Universal Pictures exec VP-marketing. "We've always believed in the combination of crafting a creative message and casting the media in psychographic and demographic directions."
In crafting those creative ideas, studios look for a signature line or image that can inspire scores of ad ideas. For "Independence Day," it was the incineration of the White House. For "Men in Black," it was black sunglasses.
Universal, says Buffy Shutt, the studio's 46-year-old president-marketing, tries to "come up with a clever and extremely-focused message, introduce it very early, then express it in multiple ways."
Studios do wrestle, however, with the fear that a prolonged push can kill the very anticipation they are trying to establish.
"We understood that starting early on 'Godzilla' presented a potential opportunity and a potential problem," says Robert Levin, 54, president of worldwide marketing, Sony Pictures Entertainment's Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures Group. "Our solution was to solve the problem before seizing the opportunity."
Sony released a trailer that could be milked for immediate publicity, then yanked it from theaters after less than two months. Sony will employ this now-you-see-it, now-you-don't tactic until the customary six-week build-up leading to Memorial Day that will include a mix of TV, outdoor, print, in-theater advertising, as well as promos and publicity.
But advanced hype risks making the marketing more intriguing than the product.
"We tested 'Liar Liar' in Independence, Mo.," says Ms. Shutt. "But in focus groups, instead of hearing about plot holes, what we got was, 'This is going to