Despite Clutter, Brands and Blockbusters Need Each Other

Viewpoint: Advertisers Like Audi Think Movie Cross-Promotion Works -- and They're Probably Right

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In Andrew Hampp's story this week for Madison & Vine on the marketing machine behind "Iron Man 2," he focused on the 10 brand partnerships attached to the highly anticipated sequel, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment's sales arm. Over at The New York Times, Stuart Elliot gives the same treatment to another potential blockbuster sequel, "Sex and the City 2." Both articles essentially ask the same question: Just how much is too much brand backing, and don't marketers risk getting lost in the ad clutter?

Billboard work from Oracle playing up its connection with 'Iron Man 2.'
Billboard work from Oracle playing up its connection with 'Iron Man 2.'
From the movie studios' perspective, the more the merrier. Just because Hollywood broke box office records in 2009 (and is already tracking 8.7% higher than last year, year-to-date, according to BoxOfficeMojo) doesn't mean media prices have come down, especially as studios do their broadcast TV buys in the so-called scatter market, when ad time is bought closer to airtime at a premium price.

The announcement today that Walt Disney Studios has named M.T. Carney points to the studio's desire to keep up with a rapidly changing digital landscape (and if Ms. Carney's Twitter account, @mmmmmtttttttt, is a guide, maybe we'll get some sweet tweets from Disney going forward). Even with plenty of media properties such as ABC, ESPN and Disney Family to cross-promote its films, Disney is plenty aware of the power of the web, especially as it pertains to its young-skewing audience. Or, as the Los Angeles Times described Ms. Carney's old agency, Naked Communications: "a communications strategy and planning firm known for promoting brands without spending heavily on traditional advertising."

But nontraditional or web marketing, depending on how you want to call it, is still tricky business, as the makers of "Kick Ass" have learned. Online buzz doesn't always translate to lines forming at the box office, as all those clicks for a "red-band" trailer are not clicks to Fandango. While that movie's $19.83 million take over the weekend was good enough to (barely) earn the top spot, no one would blame Lionsgate if it thought it had a bigger hit on its hands, as prognosticators read all the online hype as indication of a $30 million opening. Steven Zeitchik at the LAT's 24 Frames blog has a good take on why everyone might want to stop kicking "Kick Ass" in the ass.

So yes, no matter how savvy studios get at promoting their movie slate, don't expect the summer tentpoles will be so without massive cross-promotion. But back to the question: What do marketers get for their support? Dr Pepper, a first-time marketer with the "Iron Man" franchise, told Ad Age that theatrical tie-ins tend to have a measurable impact on product sales as well as brand-equity scores and product perception. And marketers rarely think they'll get lost in the clutter, as the Times also reported.

But clutter there is, especially when all the marketers have latched onto the same concept for their theatrical tie-ins. A few weeks ago, as I was passing through O' Hare, I saw a raft of billboard work from Oracle playing up its connection with "Iron Man 2." A couple of the ads also included mention of the Wall Street Journal. We reported that Oracle will leverage the movie to showcase its recent merger with Sun Microsystems as a partnership with its "Software. Hardware. Complete" tagline. That brand message wasn't exactly clear as I was rushing through the airport. So earlier this week, an ad came up that I mistook to be a TV execution of Oracle's work, mostly because of the overline "Its technology is awe-inspiring." But, after a montage of Tony Stark's suit in action, by the 15-second mark, when the ad informed me "It can also get the girl," I was pretty sure we weren't talking IT support anymore. Three seconds later, an Audi pops into the frame.

Not that there was anything wrong with the ad. If anything, any excuse to see cuts from the film are fine by me (though I'm not sure I'm ready for a "SATC" onslaught; I might need to stay clear of female-friendly media). There's probably only so many ways to promote your association with a movie like "Iron Man 2." But to a guy sitting on the couch (or walking through an airport) I'm getting the movie's message loud and clear. That's what Marvel and Paramount surely want, but is it really best for Audi?

Considering that Audi has publicly pointed to its tie-in with the first "Iron Man" as a direct contributor to the A8 model's success, it's hard to argue with sales -- or box office.

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