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There used to be an elite group of marketers-think McDonald's, General Motors, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble-that had its pick of Hollywood's entertainment for product placement and cross-promotions. Like most A-lists, it was short, rich and exclusive.

There's been a sea change in the industry over the past few years, though, with studio executives casting a wider net and pulling in brands that were once considered non-traditional choices.

Wireless products, social scene Web sites, mall retailers, health clubs, cruise lines and even recreational vehicle marketers are now top of mind for co-promotions, offering up their diverse marketing communications to hype Hollywood's movies. In turn, these new partners feel the halo effect of buzz-generating entertainment.

"There's more emphasis on getting into places where your message will stand out," says Lori Sale, exec VP-worldwide promotion at Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax Films. "If you go with non-traditional partners, it can be more impactful because there's the element of surprise."

`Aviator' connection

For instance, Ms. Sale paired Oscar contender "The Aviator" with HMS Hosts, operator of bars and restaurants in airports across the country, and matched up Designer Shoe Warehouse with the romantic comedy "Shall We Dance?"

It was DSW's first movie tie-in, and company executives say the "Get Your Dancing Shoes" promotion increased brand awareness and foot traffic in stores.

"It's important that we try to find ways to reach our target demo that are outside our traditional media," says Mike Levison, DSW's VP-marketing. "This was unique and different for us."

There's a similar trend happening in TV, where recent star sightings include Clorox products on Lifetime Television's "How Clean Is Your House?" Furniture Brands International's Drexel Heritage on Bravo's "Project Runway" and hotel/casinos in a number of cable reality shows set in Las Vegas. SAB Miller's Miller Brewing Co. had its product integrated into the first season of FX's "Rescue Me," along with sponsoring the commercial-free premiere, while Heineken popped up all over "The Club" on Spike TV.

Movies, with wide latitude on choosing brand partners, have begun incorporating watch and apparel makers, energy drinks, and the U.S. Postal Service into their marketing mix. Studio executives say there's untapped value in those kinds of relationships.

"We tend to be non-traditional thinkers because we have non-traditional movies," says Lance Still, senior VP-national promotions at Time Warner's New Line Cinema. "Sometimes it's easier to get these partners because they're not used to Hollywood knocking on their door all the time. It's the road less traveled."

A recent example: a tie between the diamond heist caper "After the Sunset" and first-timer Avon Products, the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises. The latter two brands appeared in the film. Avon created new cosmetics lines featuring Salma Hayek, whom it had recently signed as an endorser and who was a star in the film.

Executives must start with the film's content in searching for a good co-marketing fit, says Ms. Still. "Promotions can be appealing despite the lack of broadcast media," she says. "Non-traditional partners can blanket consumers in other, more effective ways."

Hollywood on board

Those tactics include online exposure, direct mail, and on-pack and in-store activity. Hollywood executives who used to dismiss such consumer outreach don't anymore.

"There's a different litmus test now," says Stephanie Sperber, exec VP at Universal Studios Partnerships, the unit specializing in such deals for the NBC Universal-owned studio. "The value is in the uniqueness and the creative connection."

When there's a clever creative match, it generates that all-important buzz. "That can take on a life of its own," Ms. Sperber says, "and it further gets the message out there."

Universal linked with Fleetwood Enterprises and EarthLink for cross-promotions around its holiday hit, "Meet the Fockers." Fleetwood's Pace Arrow RV had nearly as much screen time as the comedy's big-name stars, which included Robert De Niro driving the vehicle.

For the big-budget tent-pole releases-the summer and holiday potential blockbusters-studio executives still call on the tried-and-true categories like fast-food, soft drinks, snacks and cars.

As mass marketing becomes less effective for some products, "There are very few one-stops [for promoting movies] anymore, even on network TV," Ms. Still says. "The landscape is so fragmented, and to be effective, you have to do niche marketing."

Focus on

Studios have used their recent releases to attract new categories of sponsors, including:

* Disney:Verizon Wireless for "National Treasure."

* Miramax:Robinson-May department stores for "The Aviator."

* Paramount: Vespa motor scooters for "Alfie."

* 20th Century Fox:two-year deal encompassing 125 malls managed by General Growth Properties.

* Universal:auto parts retailers for "The Fast & the Furious."

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