More Brands Shift to 'Experiential, Influencer, Event Marketing'

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LOS ANGELES -- If it was ever truly counterculture, which is up for debate, the Sundance Film Festival has become a 10-day marketer extravaganza as brands continue to shift money away from traditional media and increasingly look to high-profile star-filled events that give them face time with influential consumers.
One of the many attractions marketers offered to celebs at last year's festival was this Motorola dance.

This year's festival, held in Park City, Utah, will feature more marketers than in previous years when it kicks off tomorrow. Among the returning official sponsors are Volkswagen, Hewlett-Packard, American Express, Delta Air Lines, Intel, Adobe Systems and Aquafina. First-timers include Sprint and L'Oreal Paris.

Frigidaire and Ugg Australia

But the list of unofficial sponsors has ballooned, with the marketer hub called the Village at the Lift sporting newcomers like Frigidaire, Ugg Australia and W Las Vegas. There are also an amped-up number of brand-backed houses situated around town that give thousands of dollars in goods to the celebrities who visit. Among those are brands like Levi's, Motorola, North Face and Diesel, which have set up hospitality houses that offer a kind of trick-or-treating for adults -- but all treats, no tricks.

The 25-year-old festival, created by the nonprofit Sundance Institute, will also host more than 600 film screenings during its run.

Add to that the increased number of film festivals that run concurrently -- Slamdance, Lapdance, Tromadance and the Boost Mobile X-Dance Action Sports Film Festival -- all of which boast laundry lists of sponsors themselves, Park City looks like a Nascar race more than ever before.

GM provides VIP vehicle fleet

Additionally, General Motors Corp. will have a fleet of 12 vehicles in Sundance to shuttle VIPs: four each for Hummer, the redone 2007 Cadillac Escalade and 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, said Jim Taylor, general manager of Cadillac. GM also partnered with Hollywood Life magazine, which is taking over a Park City storefront with a lounge where the TV show "Extra" will conduct interviews. A Cadillac Escalade will be parked out front.

Executives who link brands with the festival say there's more incentive to have a presence there, since high-priced mass media is falling out of favor and niche one-on-one marketing is the flavor of the month. The star power alone is enough to draw in everyone from consumer package goods to luxury marketers.

"Lots of companies are shifting money out of their TV budgets and going for experiential, influencer, event marketing," said Chris Robichaud, president and chief operating officer of BNC Marketing and PR, which organizes the 30,000-square-foot Village at the Lift, now in its fourth year. "We're seeing brands that you wouldn't expect, and they're sending more high-level executives like CEOs and heads of marketing. That tells us it's growing in importance."

Celebrity podcasts

Yahoo is setting up a café at Village at the Lift for the second year, adding a podcasting booth where celebrities and other VIPs can create podcasts about their Sundance experiences. The marketer, in addition to serving meals from a Hollywood chef, will let visitors create playlists from its Yahoo Music Unlimited service, check e-mails, play movie trivia and monitor Sundance news.

"It's high-touch, low-concept," said Bennett Porter, Yahoo's senior buzz director. "We believe that mass media has to be in the mix, but to achieve our goals it helps us to put our feet on the ground and talk directly to people."

One of the many attractions marketers offered to celebs at last year's festival was this Motorola dance.

Because there's such a proliferation of brands, those involved have to be creative in their approach and also have well-thought-out goals of their participation.

"The ones that are truly organic will get the ROI [return on investment]," Mr. Robichaud said. "The ones without a plan will be disappointed."

First-time Sundance marketer Airborne is poised to become this year's low-priced must-have item, following in the footsteps of the coveted Mr. Coffee from '05. It's the only product in the health and vitamin category to have a physical location and a concerted marketing effort.

Airborne immune system booster

Airborne, a privately held company based in Carmel, Calif., markets a just-add-water immune system booster that's become a favorite among Hollywood celebrities. Though the company now distributes the product nationally, it's never been a major media buyer, spending $1.8 million in 2004 and $1.2 million from January to September of last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Ten United, the brand's Pittsburgh-based marketing firm, has set up an Airborne Lounge on Main Street that will be dispensing the fizzy vitamins day and night. Other on-site marketing will include school buses to shuttle festival-goers from place to place, tying into the fact that Airborne was created by a former grade-school teacher. Its mascot, the "germ guy," will also appear as a street performer.

Executives at Ten United said Sundance is a natural marketing maneuver for Airborne, given its celebrity following and the brand's positioning. Plus, it's cold and flu season, which has been known to hit the thin-blooded Hollywood types particularly hard when they travel to snowy Park City.

"There's probably no more popular place for germs than the various Sundance venues," said Lee Brody, managing director at Ten United. "All these Southern California people will be flying, then spending time in the cold and in closed movie theaters. They'll be partying at night, shaking hands and hugging and kissing. We hope to get the point across that we're all about keeping people well."

Harry O's restaurant

The Airborne Lounge is in the same building as Harry O's, a well-traveled restaurant and club that has nightly dinners prepared by famous chefs. It's open to festival-goers during the day and hosts invite-only parties at night with Airborne-branded cocktails like "Airtinis" and "Germ Cough 'n' Cold Chasers."

Vegas venues are making their first appearances at Sundance this year, with the not-yet-open W Las Vegas staking out space at the Village at the Lift and Tao nightclub working with Blender magazine to create a high-end club with live musical performances at the Harry O's site.

"Having visibility with the right people from Los Angeles is very important," said Gregory Link, partner at Fingerprint Communications, a firm that organized the Blender Sessions at Tao Nightclub and the Marquee hospitality suite, sponsored by the New York club. "The publicity alone makes it meaningful."

Chrysler Film Festival

Chrysler Group, which has held movie-related promotions at Sundance in past years, is back again this year with a new twist. The automaker will use the venue to kick off this year's editon of the Chrysler Film Festival that replaces the annual Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival that the automaker previously sponsored at Sundance together with Universal Pictures. This time, the contest will be launched at the festival, and will award one independent filmmaker $1 million to produce a film that Chrysler will finance, while Independent Film Producers will handle outreach. Several studios have already expressed interest in distributing the film. The horror film “Cry Wolf,” which bowed in theaters late last year, was the first film to be produced through Chrysler’s film efforts.

Simultaneously, Chrysler will launch a second contest at the festival as it teams with videogame maker Activision for a virtual film competition. Starting Jan. 20, anyone can submit a two- to three-minute film to Films are due by April 20. The film must include one of the marketer's following models: the Pacifica, Crossfire, 300 or PT Cruiser. Those models have been exclusively integrated into Lionhead  Studios' "The Movies" PC game.

The winning film of The Movies contest will screen at the E3 videogame conference in May, with the filmmaker winning a Crossfire.

Jeff Bell, VP of Chrysler brand, said, "We are excited to launch this new competition that will showcase the great lineup of Chrysler vehicles in a fun and engaging way, while providing an opportunity for players to show their own personal inspirations."

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Jean Halliday contributed to this report.
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