Timex Gets Starring Role in 'Stranger Than Fiction'

Watchmaker Is Sole Brand -- and a Central Character -- in Will Ferrell Comedy

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LOS ANGELES -- The first line of "Stranger Than Fiction" sets up the quirky drama by telling the audience that "This is a story about a man named Harold Crick ... and his wristwatch."
The script for 'Stranger Than Fiction' called for prime placement for a watch, and the filmmakers felt the Timex Ironman's bells and whistles best met the creative needs of the story.

For a watch marketer, could there be any better entree into a starring role in a feature film?

When given the opportunity, Timex executives pounced and came away with a brand integration so extensive that it ranks on par with Ray-Ban in "Men in Black," AOL in "You've Got Mail" and PerfectMatch.com in "Must Love Dogs."

A life-saving scene

From the opening shots, Timex's Ironman Triathlon watch is a central character in the movie and, in a pivotal scene, saves the life of the hero, played by Will Ferrell.

Marketers that make product-integration deals rarely have much control over how their brands will appear on screen in a movie's final version, and Timex was no different. The script called for prime placement for a watch, and the filmmakers felt the Ironman's bells and whistles best met the creative needs of the story.

"Timex is such a known quantity -- it's something most people grew up with," said Eric Kopeloff, a producer of the movie. "It worked because the audience can believe that's a watch the character would wear."

Mr. Ferrell, who proved with "Talladega Nights" that he can be brand-friendly and with "Bewitched" that he isn't always, has given Timex permission to use his likeness in its in-store and online campaign around the watch.

No product-placement co-stars

There's an even more striking aspect of the integration: There are no other recognizable brands placed in the film, making Timex pop against an uncluttered background. That, too, was a creative decision, according to the filmmakers.

"It's almost as if the script was written with this watch in mind," said Gary Druckenmiller Jr., director of Timex.com and e-business at Timex and one of the main executives who put together the deal. "When we saw a rough cut of the movie, we were in awe."

The link comes at an opportune time for the marketer, which hired Kate Shevack as its chief marketing officer this past spring with a mandate to hip up and contemporize the staid brand. Working with Hollywood could be a shortcut to that end, and Timex plans a global public-relations and promotional campaign to capitalize on its "Stranger Than Fiction" deal.

The PG-13-rated movie, from Mandate Pictures and Sony's Columbia Pictures, opens Nov. 10.

Filmmakers considered creating their own watch for the movie so they could work in various features and functions. They abandoned that idea when they realized that process would be too costly and lengthy. Instead, they worked with Timex's research-and-development team to learn what the Ironman Triathlon could do.

It's established quickly in the film that Mr. Ferrell's character is a bit obsessive-compulsive. He's a stiff, regimented auditor for the Internal Revenue Service who finds himself in a surreal situation -- he's in the middle of a novel being narrated by Kay Eiffel, played by Emma Thompson. The fiction-meets-reality story is directed by Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland").

A chance to show off

The movie shows off various product attributes, such as the Ironman's blue "indiglo" light and its analog and digital features, making it a boon for Timex, said Alyse Kobin, president of Kobin Integrated Marketing, who helped barter the deal for the marketer.

"The watch is his trusted companion," said Ms. Kobin, who, perhaps not so coincidentally, was an architect of the "Men in Black" and Ray-Ban alliance on behalf of the sunglasses marketer. "The integration really makes it come to life."

There are a number of loving shots of the watch's face and logo, emphasizing the main character's reliance on time. There's a scene in which the watch is sitting on the nightstand with its blue glow lighting up the room, and another where Mr. Ferrell's character is wearing the watch and the glow illuminates him against a dark backdrop.

As opposed to some Hollywood films that gather a half-dozen or more partners for maximum off-screen marketing muscle, "Stranger Than Fiction" focuses on one integration.

"The film is not about overexposure for lots of brands," Ms. Kobin said. "It's a serious statement film."

Sponsored film's London premiere

Timex sponsored the movie's recent London premiere, and is orchestrating a large PR campaign with Kaplow Communications and Sony around the alliance. The marketer has created a global promotion around the movie, with a sweepstakes, in-store signage and extensive online elements.

Mr. Ferrell, as his character Harold Crick, will be front and center in that campaign. Wal-Mart and Target will have displays featuring the Ironman model "as seen in" "Stranger Than Fiction," and the watches will be wrapped in movie-theme packaging. Timex has doubled its shipment for the pivotal holiday season, Mr. Druckenmiller said.

Because it's an integral part of the entertainment, the watch marketer likely will play a role in the movie's later DVD release.
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