Marketers hoping to ride the coattails of a blockbuster film often commit millions of dollars without knowing what the "next big film" will look like or how the public will react to it. The sums involved, in terms of the total marketing expenditure made by a brand marketer on behalf of the film property, can rival the advertising budget spent by the studio that produced the film.
And, like the studio, the marketer is often committing a significant proportion of budget and focus at an important business time period. This risk is compounded because the pushes for many brands require long lead times: Today, it is not unusual for a brand to have its promotional plans locked and loaded 18 months in advance. That leaves few options for the marketer if a studio fails to deliver on the promise of its original sales pitch.
In fairness, it isn't always necessary for a film to be a box office success for a brand marketer to meet its own marketing objectives. But everyone involved in the effort hopes for good reviews, a big opening weekend gross and a sustained presence in the marketplace.
Lately, however, the film-marketing proposition has become riskier for those of us writing the checks. The latest challenge derives from the increasingly complex structure of many big-budget films, where multiple parties exert influence, if not control, over the marketing and the studios are less and less able to control the process and the outcome.
In the past, marketers could generally rely upon the studio to deliver the promises and conditions of the film marketing arrangement. But the landscape has changed. Most of the film properties of interest to brand marketers are packaged with quality talent (this is generally why they are so attractive in the first place). To secure such talent, the studios have ceded greater control over all aspects of the process, including the right to approve the marketing campaign and the activities of promotional partners. Compounding the problem is the fact that many leading stars moonlight as producers, providing them far greater oversight of the means by which a brand marketer can integrate with and leverage the property to create compelling promotional programs.
Despite the transfer of marketing control from the studios to marquee talent, traditional film marketing agreements all but ignore the presence of talent. The talent is the proverbial "empty chair" throughout the relationship, creating for both the studio and the marketer a potentially treacherous terrain once the marketing effort is underway.
With the clock ticking closer to the film's release date and the brand marketer's film-centered advertising in development, an expensive marketing campaign can be held hostage to both real and invented concerns over creative direction .
The marketer can also become an innocent victim of the often-tumultuous relationship between the studio and the talent involved. It can find itself affected by a battle in which it is not directly engaged and in which it has no control. It may also find itself on the short end of a process ripe with real and potential conflicts of interest.
The studios' traditional reluctance to provide direct and meaningful interaction with talent is a vestige of a system quickly evaporating. Failure to recognize the need for change will only make it more difficult for brand marketers to justify enthusiastic involvement in increasingly risky promotional ventures. The solution to the problem is fairly simple: make talent a party to the deal.
Creating a dialogue
At a minimum, brand marketers should meet with talent prior to committing substantial resources for the project. The discussion with talent should go well beyond the pre-packaged sales presentation and address the following:
The marketer should gauge talent's general opinion of the proposed relationship. Is talent enthusiastic about the marketer's association with the property, or do they view the campaign as crass, overly commercial or just a necessary nuisance?
Marketers must determine who will really be reviewing and approving materials. Will the talent be active in the approval process, or will they cede control to their managers or agents? If third parties will control talent's approval, how responsive are they to the marketers' interests?
Marketers should make talent aware of their needs and creative concepts (such as advertising storyboards or packaging art) early in the process-before going to contract-even if the creative is in an early stage of development.
Marketers must ensure that talent will be available to deliver approvals in a timely manner. They must also ensure that there is agreement on the coordination of the process between studio representations and the talent that will have creative control.
Although it is certain to be met with resistance from the studios, it seems that a logical evolution in many cases is for promotional partners to require any talent holding approval authority to be directly bound by the marketing agreement. Including talent directly recognizes the reality of the current business environment and ensures that all parties are in agreement. It also explicitly acknowledges talent's role in the approval process, and gives the marketer the opportunity to hold talent accountable for issues that may later arise in execution.
This approach does not complicate the promotional marketing arrangement, nor does it eliminate the important and central role played by the studio. Adding talent directly to the arrangement merely recognizes the "effective control" that talent currently exercises. In addition, it should have the long-term effect of easing tensions between studios and marketers because the marketers are more fully and directly engaged in the process and its challenges.
In the long run, everyone will benefit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lawrence Flanagan is exec VP-chief marketing officer, global marketing, for MasterCard International. He's also worked for L'Oreal and Procter & Gamble Co., where he was marketing director for Cover Girl Cosmetics.