Sponsors flee 'Matrix' sequel

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Powerhouse marketers Samsung, General Motors and Heineken, which spent more than $100 million around the summer release of "The Matrix: Reloaded," are sitting out the sequel after finding the flick too advertiser-unfriendly.

The three marketers believed, following the success of the original "The Matrix" cult classic, that the sequels would be powerful vehicles for their brands. Their massive global media and promotional spending around the first of those sequels, last summer's "Reloaded," likely helped the Warner Bros. film hit $770 million in worldwide box office receipts.

But the advertisers are largely leaving the studio to market the third film, "The Matrix: Revolutions," alone. The Keanu Reeves thriller hits theaters Nov. 5.

Publicly, brand executives at the companies said the timing of "Revolutions," a mere six months after "Reloaded," didn't make sense. Privately, though, some said that the group of filmmakers responsible for the Matrix franchise proved extremely difficult to work with.

Several elements of the "Reloaded" experience upset advertisers, according to those close to the situation. The movie's release date changed from late 2002 to summer 2003, making it tough for partners to adjust their marketing calendars. Heineken, Samsung and their ad agencies went through "innumerable" rounds of creative changes to meet the specs of the filmmakers, said one executive.

The writers/directors, the Wachowski brothers, and producer Joel Silver were also highly protective of footage that was needed to create promotional ads and other materials, executives said.

Warner Bros. executives said it was the timing and not the process that made partners bow out of "Revolutions."

"The Matrix property is an enormous one that faced a lot of unique challenges in marketing and execution," said Diane Nelson, exec VP-domestic marketing. "We're thrilled to have A-level partners who were as understanding as they were of a really challenging process."

DVD release

Heineken and Samsung are touting the DVD release of "Reloaded" in some U.S. and international markets with the tagline, "Reload before the Revolution begins." Ms. Nelson said the DVD support would boost awareness of "Revolutions."

The rough-and-tumble situation between the studio and marketers, while not unprecedented in Hollywood, points up the difficulties of melding the cultures of the entertainment and ad industries. "Studios have to take these companies more seriously," said a promotions veteran. "They have to be more attuned to the companies' needs."

A spokesman for Heineken said the release of "Reloaded" at the beginning of the summer boosted business in a pivotal beer-consumption season. A November release wouldn't serve that purpose, and it was timing that drove the brand's decision not to promote "Revolutions," he said. Yet, the spokesman added, "dealings with partners are sometimes easy and sometimes more difficult."

some success

Norm Marshall, CEO of entertainment marketing agency Norm Marshall & Associates, who worked with several of the film's partners, said the campaigns launched by Samsung and Heineken worked, but that the brands decided not to promote "Revolutions." He wouldn't comment further.

GM's Cadillac division had to scotch much of its planned ad campaign around "Reloaded" because the brand did not have access to film footage. Its CTS and Escalade EXT were prominently featured in the film, but the deal initially had been structured to go beyond product placement to a full-scale integrated TV campaign. That didn't materialize.

Mark LaNeve, general marketing manager of Cadillac, said months before the film's release that he was working with the studio on a plan for ads to show his brand's vehicles in the movie. Instead, Cadillac's effort was just a single ad in the Los Angeles Times the day the movie arrived and an ad in USA Today. Cadillac now denies it had wanted to do TV commercials.

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