That was the clear consensus across the board among the speakers here at today's Madison & Vine East, Advertising Age's annual conference.
The statement is hardly new, but recent examples from both film and TV producers and their projects' promotional partners shed light on the value of pairing up before cameras start rolling.
One such example is "Transformers," the $100 million-plus live-action adaptation of Hasbro's popular toy line. The film, set for release July 4 and produced by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures, includes significant product integrations, including a wide array of vehicles from General Motors Corp. brands Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC and Hummer -- as the lead shape-shifting robots -- and Apple's iPod, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Yahoo.
The integrations were possible because "the script was designed to incorporate some of these things ... as opposed to jamming a soda machine in somewhere after the movie's done," said "Transformers" producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "Hopefully smart filmmakers will start [talking to promotional partners] earlier. The earlier the dialogue begins, the sooner they can integrate you in ways that are legitimate as opposed to being thrown in there, which is where product placement becomes problematic."
Not collaborating during the development process can lead to bumps in the road. "Everyone's coming at it from different perspectives," Mr. Di Bonaventura said. "Everyone's business has a different timeline. But we all eventually find ourselves in the same boat and that helps us integrate better."
Keeping marketers' needs in mind
He added that marketers also have to make decisions more quickly. "There's a lot of dancing going on before everyone gets engaged," he said. "The problem is the unwillingness to jump in on the crazy things we do." And convincing marketers that filmmakers are willing to keep the marketer's needs in mind can still be difficult. "The difficulty is making everyone else believe we are going to do it that way."
After working on "Transformers," the producers of the film now have a relationship with Hasbro that will help when they tackle a live-action version of "G.I. Joe" and "Action Man."
"We do have a bible now to go through the process," Mr. Di Bonaventura said.
Those involved with "Transformers" realize they may be criticized for creating a movie that's intended, by its very existence, to sell toys. That's where strong storytelling and an emotional center will win over naysayers, said Brian Goldner, chief operating officer of Hasbro and an executive producer on the movie.
"It was built from the ground up to serve both sides, creative and commercial," Mr. Goldner said. "You don't have to compromise the movie to do that."
Early dealings for Amp'd pay off
If you snooze, you lose, said conference keynote speaker Doug Dobie, chief marketing officer of Amp'd Mobile, a cellphone company focused on the 18- to 35-year-old demographic. Early partnerships, both for financing and entertainment content, put Amp'd in league with Viacom's MTV Networks and Universal Music Group.
When the collaboration starts early, there's a much stronger potential for payoff. In addition to MTV and Universal providing content for Amp'd phones, some entertainment bits that Amp'd has created -- like the popular "Lil' Bush" -- are finding their way onto MTV's cable channels.
Similarly, Burger King has long collaborated with members of the News Corp. family, from the Fox network's "The Simple Life" and "Unanimous" to Fox Films' "Fantastic Four." Two recent projects with the conglomerate's wildly popular social-networking site MySpace.com hit hard at the burger chain's core young demographic.
An exclusive seven-minute sneak peek at the season premiere of "The Simpsons" pulled in 1.4 million streams in three days, said panelist Gillian Smith, Burger King's global senior director-media and interactive. Of the consumers interacting with the project -- via a Simpsons page on MySpace -– 83% were in the target demo.
Within days, 71,000 people signed up to be friends with "The Simpsons."
Giving back to the consumer
BK also gave away free episodes of "24," "American Dad," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and other Fox TV shows, dovetailing into the marketer's revived "Have it your way" slogan.
Burger King and Fox Interactive Media set up a MySpace page for the creepy-yet-magnetic King character from the marketer's ads. Well more than 120,000 people now consider the King their friend for a campaign that garnered upward of a billion media impressions.
But translating that activity to sales is still elusive. "For us, it's not even about how many burgers you sell," Ms. Smith said, "it's about driving brand preference."
Cingular Wireless has seen years-long benefit from its sponsorship of reality juggernaut "American Idol" because executives were willing to do an ad deal with Fox and an integration into the Fremantle Media-produced show in its nascent days.
"Back then, everybody turned us down," said Keith Hindle, exec VP-Fremantle Media. "They had the courage to step up."
The marketer, which back then was AT&T Wireless before its merger with Cingular, introduced text voting to "Idol" and saw the number of fans using its phone and text-voting service skyrocket from 110 million in season two to 570 million this past season.
"As our technology improves, we can change what we do with the show," said John Burbank, Cingular's VP-marketing. That now includes selling ringtones from "Idol" finalists, which have become Cingular's second-biggest selling ringtones, stacking up well against established pop, rock and hip-hop stars.
Nascar's brand-saturated roots
Understanding Nascar and its brand-saturated roots made a significant difference in how filmmakers and comedian/star Will Ferrell worked with marketers on "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby," a Sony feature film that's just crossed the $150 million mark at the box office.
Filmmakers spent time early in the movie's development with Nascar executives to clue into racing, drivers and the sport's relationship to marketers, upping their face time in the final cut, said Sarah Nettinga, Nascar's managing director-film, TV and entertainment.
The movie included a number of Nascar sponsors -- some with intentionally kitschy results -- and gave millions of dollars worth of exposure to a few non-Nascar sponsors, such as Wonder Bread and Perrier.
The American Express sponsorship of the Tribeca Film Festival, in its fifth year, offers its consumers such perks as family hospitality rooms, stroller valets and seats at red-carpet premieres. The program that allows card members to buy tickets for the festival films before they're on sale to the public has grown 1800% since the first year, said Nancy Smith, American Express' VP-global media and sponsorship.