Brewers abstain from two new flicks

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Hollywood is releasing two feature films in the coming weeks that are drenched in more beer than an Oktoberfest, yet there are no major brew marketers anywhere in sight, either as promotional partners or set dressing.

What gives? For one, excessive drinking is definitely not on message, and both Warner Bros.' "Beerfest" and Echo Bridge Entertainment's "Beer League" feature plenty of it.

Warner Bros. is readying the Aug. 25 launch of "Beerfest," an R-rated goofball comedy set in Germany, where the characters "stumble upon a secret centuries-old competition described as a 'Fight Club' with beer games," according to the production notes.

The movie's directing and writing team also worked on such teen-male magnets as the stoner comedy "Club Dread" and the big-screen remake of "Dukes of Hazzard."

The studio approached a number of major beer marketers, including SAB Miller and Anheuser-Busch, who declined to be involved. They got the joke but just couldn't see themselves starring alongside drunken softball players and burping beer chuggers, said executives from the breweries.

"We're all for good fun, and nobody loves beer more than we do," said Tim Schoen, VP-sports and entertainment marketing at Anheuser-Busch. "That said, even though this movie is meant as a spoof, the beer-drinking occasions weren't in alignment with the way we portray our company and our brands."

A-B receives more than 300 film scripts a year from major studios and independent producers, Mr. Schoen said. And the marketer has stringent policies on how and when its products can be used-for instance, only in movies that appeal to adults. It won't allow the A-B brand to appear in movies that imply the company condones alcohol abuse, drunk driving or underage drinking.

Approaching major beer marketers has been a tough task for Warner Bros. The studio's executives, who ended up placing a few niche beer brands into the movie, said beer marketers want exclusivity in a film, the same as any other promotional partner. For a comedy like "Beerfest," it wouldn't have made sense for everyone to be drinking only one brand in a massive beer-swilling contest.

German brews Spaten, which is an official sponsor of Munich's Oktoberfest, and Radeberger, which has some distribution in the U.S., are placed in the movie, though neither extended that relationship to an off-screen promotion.

Had the studio made a deal with a major American beer marketer, Warner Bros. executives would have had to curtail some of their own promotion around the film: They would've been able to market it only to those 21 and over. Instead, the studio plans to hype the comedy broadly, aiming at anyone over 17. Partnerships between studios and alcohol marketers are somewhat rare. And from a marketing standpoint, Warner Bros. may be better off without a major brewer acting as promotional partner. "If we have an R-rated movie, that's one of the few times we can actually work with a liquor company," said Mimi Slavin, Warner Bros.' senior VP-promotions. "But that's also if the majority of our marketing is aimed at an older audience, and for this movie, we didn't want to limit our ability to market to 17-plus."

Another movie has tons of drinking but no formal product-placement deals with beer marketers. "Beer League," starring and written by Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange, follows some hard-drinking misfits who transform their softball team … la "Bad News Bears" and dozens of other losers-make-good stories. The movie is rated R for "nonstop language including strong sexual references, sexuality, nudity and drug use," according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Its tagline: "No gut, no glory."

Again, perhaps not surprisingly, major beer marketers stayed away in droves, though Sportsbook.com, a betting website, is partnering for the Sept. 13 premiere and a number of parties to help drum up attention.
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