Editorial: Film sponsors deserve better

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Following the breakup of the partnership between Warner Bros. and its corporate sponsors for "The Matrix" movie franchise, it's time for a clear-eyed assessment of what it will take to get more happy endings for Hollywood co-marketing stories.

Mixing marketer needs for planning and predictability (and their desire to get real benefits for their brands) with unpredictable and sometimes imperious film directors and producers is a volatile combination. Studios have to see that this tricky relationship between "art" and "commerce" works-for both sides. Marketers must know they'll get what they need from content creators.

Obligations of filmmakers to sponsors can be spelled out in contracts. The fear of litigation might rein in otherwise-difficult artistic egos. It may also be necessary, in the case of big deals, to appoint a brand steward to work with the creative team during filming, shepherding the deal through to see it is executed in a way that works for the marketer.

As we reported last week, Samsung, General Motors Corp. and Heineken, Warner's partners for last spring's "The Matrix: Reloaded," won't back November's launch of "The Matrix: Revolutions." While people close to the situation cited various reasons for the partnerships' end, it was clear marketers were unhappy with their working relationship with the filmmakers.

Getting the marketers' tie-in ads approved by the "Matrix" filmmakers led to "innumerable" creative changes, said one person familiar with last spring's "Reloaded" tie-in projects. In addition, footage from the film for use in the marketing sponsors' ads was difficult to pry loose from the "Matrix" team.

Warner executives praise Samsung, GM and Heineken for being "as understanding as they were of a really challenging process" and that "The Matrix" property "faced a lot of unique challenges in marketing and execution." But corporate marketers deserve more than after-the-fact sympathy from their Hollywood studio partners.

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