More Brand-Friendly Films Scheduled for Release

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LOS ANGELES -- Filled with sci-fi, fantasy and sword-and-sandal epics, Hollywood's slate this year provided brands with fewer chances to connect their products to film properties.
Like the first three, the fourth 'Harry Potter' film will remain free of marketers' tie-in promotions.

But that will change in 2005, according to industry authorities. Studios are preparing to roll out a new slate of promo-friendly comedies, animated and live-action family fare, remakes and sequels, and less R-rated titles.

'Absolutely a good year'

"Next year is absolutely a good year for brands," said Tom Meyer, senior vice president of Davie-Brown Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based product placement agency. "There's a lot of opportunity for brands to get involved in a variety of different genres of movies that might appeal to their particular audiences."

That's a shift from 2004, when films like Troy, King Arthur, The Alamo, Van Helsing, The Chronicles of Riddick, The Village and Alexander dominated the slate, forcing promotional partners to sit on the sidelines and spend their marketing dollars elsewhere, namely TV.

While marketing mavens are expecting Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Four, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, The Pink Panther, The Legend of Zorro and Madagascar to be big draws at the box office next summer, the films are also expected to lure the majority of the marketing dollars, as well.

The overall pattern of marketers' 2005 buy-ins is also expected to change. Last year, multiple advertisers' frontloaded promotions to a handful of films like Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles. But brand reps say next year's tie-in deals will be spread out across a broader variety of films.

"Brands don't want to be on a movie if there are 10 other partners," Mr. Meyer said. "Most people are being very cognizant about that."

The high cost of movie marketing

Another reason more co-marketing deals are expected is that more marketers are interested in testing the waters of branded entertainment at the same time more studios are struggling to control soaring movie marketing costs. The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that in 2003, it cost $34 million to market a movie, a 28% increase over the previous year. Summer marketing budgets easily top $50 million, studio executives say. With studios opening more films worldwide, costs are only expected to increase yet further, and distributors are, not surprisingly, eager to partner
Like the first three, the fourth 'Harry Potter' film will remain free of marketers' tie-in promotions.

with companies whose ad dollars and brands have clout internationally.

Much of the next year's promotional spending is expected to go toward safe family-friendly fare.

"The family audience is doing tremendous numbers at the box office," said Devery Holmes, president of placement shop NMA Entertainment in Los Angeles. "Marketers want to tap into that excitement."

Among animated offerings alone, Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Fox and Nickelodeon are all boasting films that are generating considerable early buzz with Cars, Chicken Little, Madagascar, The Wallace and Gromit Movie: Curse of the Wererabbit, Robots and Barnyard.

With films like Shrek 2 generating well over $200 million at the domestic box office, cases like The Incredibles attracting $150 million in extra marketing muscle from partners should become the norm, rather than the exception, next year, marketers say.

The films' appeal to children could mean big business for fast-food partners when it comes to pushing premiums.

Attention to comedies

With surprise hits like Dodgeball and Mean Girls, comedies are also becoming more attractive, with marketers high on Will Ferrell’s Soccer Dad. The upcoming slate is also filled with remakes like The Pink Panther, The Longest Yard and Herbie: Fully Loaded, and big-screen adaptations of TV shows like Bewitched and The Dukes of Hazzard that are all expected to bring in the brands and could give companies the chance to stand out from the clutter.

Nevertheless, some advertisers are showing signs of disappointment.

The fourth installment of the Harry Potter franchise will likely remain promo free, considering that the other three films in Warner Bros.' series were off-limits to advertisers. At the same time, however, there will be the option to tap into the same audience with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe later next year.

Some big titles that brands had counted on backing have moved out of 2005 entirely, including the next installment of the James Bond franchise, typically a magnet for promo partners, and the third outing of the Mission: Impossible series.

Not enough 'event' films

"Those are event films," Holmes said. "You've got companies
Like the first three, the fourth 'Harry Potter' film will remain free of marketers' tie-in promotions.

that are looking for properties that translate into different languages and can easily attract consumers quickly. Those [a James Bond or Mission: Impossible] are brands that do. When they fall off the schedule, you're struggling to replace them."

Other high-profile titles that moved out of 2005, are the animated adaptation of Curious George, and Spy Hunter, based on the hit video game, whose transforming hero car is a major draw to the property, and prime opportunity for an auto partner.

There are also some tough sells.

Despite being considered event films that could pull large audiences, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds and King Kong are also seen as too dark in tone and action for many brands to back. Kong, The Legend of Zorro and Chronicles of Narnia are also period or fantasy pieces, which makes it more difficult to effectively connect brands to them.

Despite that, their respective studios are still pushing hard to lure partners to the properties.

Making sure to skew older too

"It all comes down to attracting the right brand to the right property with the right positioning," Ms. Holmes said, adding that while tie-in partners are often viewed as companies looking to appeal to younger audiences, brands that target older moviegoers are increasingly linking with film properties, including companies in the auto, electronics, financial services, fashion, retail and quick-service restaurants that skew toward adults. "No one thought New Line could do anything with The Lord of the Rings, and they did."

As one marketing chief at a studio puts it, 2004 was "never intended to turn off advertisers. That was never the plan. It just happened that way. But you can bet, with movies getting more expensive to open, that probably won't happen again."
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