NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Agnes Moorehead, Cecil B. DeMille and Gary Cooper are among the dozens whose name adorns a star on Hollywood's landmark Walk of Fame. And if a marketer is willing to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $1 million or so, it can get its brand next to Tinsel Town royalty.
Already, Absolut vodka and L'Oréal have been given stars that lie just inches away from the Walk of Fame proper, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is hoping to secure three others from the automotive, fashion and financial-services industry, said Jeff Lotman, CEO of Global Icons, a licensing firm that represents the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce hit upon this unique sponsorship plan to help spur the landmark's restoration. "The Walk of Fame is having its 50th anniversary next year, and it needs restoration," Mr. Lotman said. With the city unable to offer assistance because of the roiled economy, he said, a decision was made to seek out sponsors who might help improve the famous walkway in exchange for a little association with it.
"In essence, the Chamber is hoping to raise more than $5 million from five sponsors," said Mark Owens, a president at Norm Marshall & Associates, a well-known entertainment-marketing firm whose Vanguard partnerships unit negotiated the deals for Absolut and L'Oréal.
The effort illustrates some of the lengths to which caretakers must go to keep tourist stops and famous attractions looking their best, and opens up a challenging venue -- monuments -- to advertising. Most sponsorships of this sort are done gingerly -- a nod to a sponsor on public TV, or a plaque on a nearby wall noting donations that help keep services and attractions in running order. Taking a star and ascribing it to a sponsor "might raise issues in the minds of people who come and visit," said Scott Lerman, CEO of brand consultancy Lucid Brands.
Organizers have been cognizant of the need to proceed carefully. "We have sort of taken the high road. It's really been about the renovation," Mr. Owens said. "You're following the recession and the challenge is the walk is in need of repair and it has a lot of cracks alongside it." The Walk is perhaps the most-visited free tourist destination "outside of Times Square."
The actors and musicians that have been given a star on the Walk of Fame also have to pay for the privilege of being immortalized. Once nominated, the recipient (or a movie or music company sponsoring him) must agree to pay $25,000 for the Walk of Fame star ceremony. The fee covers the cost of installing the star and also goes toward maintenance and repair. Each June, an average of 20 recipients are awarded a star, according to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
Absolut raised some eyebrows when its star was unveiled in July 2008. "Why is a Scandinavian vodka being enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?" asked the Los Angeles Times. "It's not a tasteless homage to stars who drink too much. It's just the latest corporate attempt to buy some good buzz." Jeffrey Moran, Absolut's VP-public relations, events and sponsorships, said the company realized the notion of placing advertising adjacent to a popular attraction "is always a very sensitive topic," but felt "we were very honestly trying to help an organization, in particular a landmark that needed some help."
Absolut saw results in terms of press coverage and in sales of a Los Angeles-oriented vodka product that included a berry-based flavor, he said.
Companies that agree to become a "Friend of the Walk of Fame" get their own star, which isn't part of the official Walk, but is "is literally six inches off of it," Mr. Lotman said. "It's on the same sidewalk but on private property leased to us for ten years off of a retail project and in front of the Kodak Theater."
A marketer can also make use of the Hollywood landmark as part of other extensions, Mr. Owens said. For example, L'Oréal, which received its star in October, offered free lip touch-ups by L'Oréal Paris makeup artists to passers-by in the heart of Hollywood on Oct. 21 and 22, as well as $1 gold coupons valid toward the purchase of any L'Oréal Paris product. L'Oréal also teamed up with CVS for a nationwide program of "Shine Like a Star" displays that corresponded with the Hollywood star.
L'Oréal didn't see its sponsorship as disruptive or encroaching upon the landmark, said Karen T. Fondu, president of the L'Oréal Paris division of L'Oréal USA. "Given the number of celebrities we have used as spokespersons for our brand, it was a natural affinity," she said.
So long as the cause is known, the star may be of secondary consideration -- though, certainly, no one seems to be turning one down. "We didn't necessarily view it as advertising as much as an integration or partnership," Absolut's Mr. Moran said. "Listen, it was great to get the star, but we still would have done this even if we hadn't gotten the star."