Warner Bros. Film Spawns Broad Web of Partnerships and Tie-ins

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LOS ANGELES -- He may be Superman, but even the Man of Steel will rely on the help of some marketing muscle from promotional partners when he flies into theaters this summer.
Actor Brandon Routh is the new Superman in Warner Bros.' $200 million epic 'Superman Returns.' The 73-year-old franchise has already earned more than $1.7 billion during its lifetime.

For its first Superman film in 20 years, Warner Bros. will surround “Superman Returns” with a cadre of blue chip marketing partners that are using each element of the story to speak to specific segments of the moviegoing public. Though the character has a dedicated following of comic book fans, kids and nostalgia buffs, Warner Bros. and its co-marketing partners are aiming to make Superman a 21st-century icon to women and men, young and old.

Pepsi-Cola Co., Burger King, PerfectMatch.com, Duracell and Quaker State have signed on to promote the movie, which stars newcomer Brandon Routh as Superman, alongside Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. It opens June 30 to take advantage of the long Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The studio is so confident in “Superman Returns” that it already has announced a sequel, likely for 2009, with director Bryan Singer signed to the project.

Global brand management division

Warner Bros.’ global brand management division, which was formed several years ago to oversee franchises, has been working with "Superman" for more than a year already. The group will tend to the property throughout its life, from feature film to DVD, licensing and merchandising, soundtracks and theme park rides, wireless and video games and any other platforms, said Gaetano Mastropasqua, senior-VP promotions of the studio’s global brand management division

“We’re getting behind this property as a corporation,” Mr. Mastropasqua said. “We’ve made it a top priority of the studio.”

Warner Bros., known as a filmmakers’ studio, churns out somewhere between 18 and 22 films a year, with three to five of those being tentpoles -- event movies intended to draw the broadest possible audience and spawn the most off-shoots.

Superman, a 73-year-old piece of Americana, has had a multimedia life for decades, with successes in comics, radio, TV, DVD, four feature films, toys, books and merchandise.

Warner Bros. executives said they wanted the marketing partnerships for the upcoming film to express Superman’s iconic qualities like speed, strength and power.

In such a crowded summer, with other tentpoles such as “X-Men 3,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “”Mission: Impossible III,” partnerships need to help make “Superman Returns” stand out.

Financial details of deals unknown

Each partner will spend an undisclosed amount on media, much of it TV ad time, along with retail promotions and consumer contests, Mr. Mastropasqua said. Their programs are intended to fan out from families and gatekeepers to teens and young adults without kids.

Burger King, seeking the all-family audience, will promote the movie heavily throughout its 7,000 locations, with special Superman-centric kids’ meals and activity-based toys. The promotion, starting in June and lasting through July, will include the U.S., Germany, Latin America and other territories.

Pepsi-Cola Co., which plans to make a big splash at retail with the only movie tie-in on its summer calendar, will spread the promotion across most of its brands, including Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist and Aquafina. Without seeing the final edit, executives at the marketer aren't sure if their products are placed in the movie, but there's a chance for that, said Ralph Santana, vice president of marketplace initiative development for Pepsi-Cola North America.

Pepsi's promotion -- with media spanning TV, print, outdoor, Internet and retail -- could be bigger than the marketer's program around the "Star Wars" franchise, Mr. Santana said. The centerpiece will be a consumer sweepstakes, dubbed "Capture Lex and Win," that will be plastered on 1 billion packages of soda. The contest, with a guaranteed winner, will give away $1 million in cash.

'Universal appeal'

The marketer chose "Superman Returns" because "the property has universal appeal," Mr. Santana said. The partnership with Warner Bros. was the right fit because the studio "wanted to develop something breakthrough instead of just looking for a sponsor and an outlay of cash."

The promotion will hit hard at the heart of the soda's demographic, 18- to 34-year-olds, but aims to broaden beyond those consumers.

Perfectmatch.com, a growing online dating service that has recently become a player in the Hollywood tie-in game, will leverage the romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. The site, which speaks predominantly to women, will launch sweepstakes and screenings that will play up the love story in the film.

"Isn't every single woman 25-54-years-old looking for a man like Clark Kent?" said Duane Dahl, CEO of Perfectmatch.com. "The opportunity to be a part of this historic franchise was one we just couldn't pass up."

PerfectMatch.com will pull in its longtime partners like MSNBC and iVillage to help hype the movie and will work with People magazine to develop advance screenings and after-parties.

Quaker State targets women

Quaker State, which supplies thousands of quick oil-change chains around the country, will aim its promotions at the women who frequent those venues.

Some of the TV media will use clips from “Superman Returns” and some will include custom live-action scenes. Studios are increasingly supplying custom animated or live-action footage for partner ad campaigns for a better melding of the two messages.

Last summer’s “Star Wars: Episode III -– Revenge of the Sith” opened that door even wider, with iconic characters like Chewbacca and Darth Vader showing up as stars in brand commercials.

“There have always been a lot of rules about how brands can use entertainment properties,” said Mimi Slavin, senior VP-promotions. “Now, people are used to seeing the two worlds working together. And it helps to update the property.”

While keeping in mind Superman’s history and legacy, it’s vital that the partnerships make the character and the franchise relevant to today’s audience, particularly the most frequent moviegoers –- young males.

A four-quadrant movie

The studio believes that “Superman Returns” can be a four-quadrant movie, meaning it can appeal across the demographic spectrum to women and men, young and old.

The Metropolis setting in “Superman Returns” is a modern one, with room for various brands to pop up in the natural course of the story. Several of the co-marketing partners have product placement in the film, though studio executives declined to be specific about which ones. Other brands, with no promotional relationship to the film, also will be visible. One is Virgin Galactic, whose owner, Richard Branson, makes a cameo in the film.

Warner executives wanted to have a few of the traditional promo partner categories -- the ones that consumers have come to expect to have ties to a big-budget summer movie -- and a few that weren’t so obvious. They were chosen because of their brand attributes and the demographic they reach.

The franchise, which started in the 1938 with Superman's first appearance in the first issue of Action Comics, could become a multibillion-dollar property, perhaps surpassing the likes of “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings.” The reasons are numerous: It has appeal across demographic groups, an ability to move product even in non-movie years, and the potential for a new string of feature films, DVDs, toys and other merchandise, industry analysts say.
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