Honda Gets on the Big Screen at Sundance

Marketers' Role at Annual Film Fest Becomes More Crucial for Independent Filmmakers

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LOS ANGELES ( -- At the Sundance Film Festival, the streets of Park City, Utah have become so commercialized through the years that it's hard to imagine any real estate still untouched by a marketer on either official or bootlegged pretenses. But at this weekend's 26th annual festival, Honda will go where no marketer has gone before at the festival -- on the big screen.

Honda and Sundance Channel are teaming up for a series of co-branded vignettes documenting the Sundance Insitute's Sundance Labs workshops, held every summer at the Sundance Resort in Utah. The vignettes will air before every film screened in dramatic competition at the film festival, which starts today and runs through Jan. 31. The spots are designed to illustrate Honda's global tagline, "The power of dreams," and will also air on Sundance Channel throughout the festival's 10-day run. Honda's media agency, Santa Monica-based RPA, helped broker the relationship.

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Dreaming about robots
Barbara Ponce, Honda's manager-corporate and diversity advertising, said the carmaker's strategic presence at the festival synced up nicely with the company's latest corporate branding campaign, "Living With Robots," which is also the title of a short film co-produed with that will debut during Sundance's "Dream the Impossible" documentary series and at The short film spotlights Honda's research with the ASIMO project, or Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, which examines how humanoid robots can be integrated into society through research. Both "Living With Robots" and the Sundance Labs vignettes showcase the potential of dreams and ideas, Ms. Ponce said.

"In an altruistic sense, Honda sees its role as supporting the communications of fresh ideas," she said. "So for us this is a balance of a marketing sponsorship and a contribution to the Institute and the festival to be able to put on this important event."

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Honda's sponsorship of the Sundance Labs is also helping filmmakers make the right relationships to get their films distributed. Evan Shapiro, president of Rainbow Media's Sundance Channel and IFC, argued that this year was the most seminal in the festival's history since its first gathering in 1981.

Impending crisis for indie films
"It's really a time of change here, not just in the festival's impact on the culture but for the predictive nature on how brands will work with nonprofits and how independent film itself will be distributed," he said. "Pretty much ever major independent film studio is in danger of closing, so if not for a partnership with some kind of corporation -- whether it's Comcast, Google, Microsoft -- they would cease to exist as we know them. Without corporate support, I don't think we'll have as many opportunities for artists to flourish in the next decade."

The alignment of Honda-branded content with the ultimate product at Sundance, the films themselves, should help separate the marketer from the increasingly crowded pack of brands clamoring to get their logos, products and swag in front of filmmakers, celebrities and hangers-on. Festival founder Robert Redford has even cried foul against so-called ambush marketers for hijacking the festival's streets and houses to get their brands in front of celebrities like Paris Hilton who have nothing to do with the festival other than having their picture taken.

Jill Miller, managing director of the Sundance Institute, said the festival has adopted a model in recent years where it doesn't allow more than 20 official sponsors, to keep the brand clutter to a relative minimum.

"We look for companies that have shared values and want to achieve similar goals," she said. "If they come in and want to do something that doesn't work for us, ultimately it's not going to be successful."

Much needed boost
This year's sponsors are helping defray 40% of the festival's nearly $10 million in annual production costs, with combined sponsor and unkind donations amounting to about 54%, or roughly $5 million. Honda, Sundance Channel, Entertainment Weekly and Hewlett-Packard are the four presenting sponsors, with Brita water filter signed on as a sustaining sponsor and DirecTV a leadership sponsor.

"Corporate sponsorship is key to offsetting costs so we can offer reasonable ticket prices, and any remaining revenue from the festival helps to support our work year-round," Ms. Miller said. Honda will also provide all-new 2010 CRV and X-Tour vehicles to drive filmmakers to and from events in Park City, while Southwest Airlines, the festival's official airline partner, is flying participating filmmakers to this year's event.

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