Products Integrated Into Board Stars' Video Documentaries

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LOS ANGELES -- Hoping to generate some street cred with young action sports fans, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s Toyota division and tech giant Panasonic have struck a brand integration deal with Los Angeles producer Studio411 that embeds the marketers into a series of original action sports DVDs and a related cross-country multimedia tour.

Studio411 will release 10 action sports DVDs in fourth quarter, including several Toyota- and Panasonic-sponsored titles, with distribution through specialty stores and mass retailers. They’ll also be licensed for TV airings on Fuel and other networks. The Studio411 multimedia tour is ongoing, with stops in Denver, Orlando, San Diego and other markets through next spring.

Toyota trucks

Toyota’s Tacoma and Tundra trucks are integrated throughout the content of the DVDs the marketer sponsors, shown hauling sports equipment for star athletes like surfer Laird Hamilton and skateboarder Bob Burnquist.

The automaker has a significant presence at Studio411 on Tour, which screens the DVDs, showcases gear from famous athletes and features music and art. By design, the event hits many of the same cities as the Dew Action Sports Tour, which Toyota and Panasonic also sponsor, landing in town a week before that competition.

The deals with A-list marketers show the growing clout of action sports, once written off as a fad but quickly gaining sponsor interest. A possible reason is increased TV coverage, with the recent X Games and Dew Tour landing airtime on NBC, ESPN and USA, and its athletes earning six- and seven-figure paydays from marketers eager to connect with their young male fan base.

PepsiCo's Mountain Dew, Gillette Co., Sony and Target have joined longtime supporters like VF Corp.’s Vans, Quiksilver and Rossignol to sponsor action sports athletes and events. Corporations will spend an estimated $107 million by next year in the area, up from $25 million just a few years ago, according to IEG, which tracks sponsorship deals.

Original action sports DVDs

Studio411, owned by Los Angeles-based Wasserman Media Group, creates, markets and distributes original action sports DVDs featuring some of the field’s best-known athletes and filmmakers. Among its stable: motocross champion Nate Adams, snowboarder Sean Johnson and surfing brothers Chris, Keith and Dan Malloy. One of the company’s filmmakers, Jamie Mosberg, conceived and shot a 30-second TV spot for Panasonic that aired during NBC’s coverage of the Dew Tour.

The Studio411 deal is part of a tactic Toyota executives call “strategic layering,” searching for opportunities in action sports that can dovetail with each other to make a bigger impact.

“We see the efficiencies and added value we can get from layering promotions in the same category,” said Doug Frisbie, Toyota’s corporate events and promotions administrator. “We realize there’s a synergy between them.”

Market-by-market tours give the brand a chance to “connect at a grassroots level with fans,” Mr. Frisbie said. Online efforts, including Toyota and Panasonic microsites, extend the effort, and trailers and snippets of the original content appear on Web site iFilm.

Action sports and the young men it attracts have become a focus for Toyota, but executives wanted to be thoughtful about their approach.

'Have to build legitimacy'

“You can’t just come in as a corporate sponsor, you have to build legitimacy with this audience,” Mr. Frisbie said. “It’s a long-term investment for us, and we need to be relevant.

Filmmakers used Panasonic equipment to shoot all the DVDs in the series, and the brand is visible in the content as athletes capture each other’s stunts on film. There are also tutorials on the Panasonic-sponsored DVDs that coach people on how to capture action sports tricks on film. As part of the multimedia tour, Panasonic sets up plasma walls and high-definition cameras so attendees can experiment with the technology.

“The brand has been targeting action sports for a few years, but this is the biggest foray to date,” said Tom Murcott, senior partner, group director of Renegade Marketing Group, which represents Panasonic. “We’re investing in a very major way.”

Similar to Toyota’s thinking, Panasonic executives didn’t just want to be just a logo at an event. They’re already considering working with the next Studio411 on Tour.

“We’re in their lives in a meaningful way,” Mr. Murcott said. “It’s important to put it into a relevant context and do it in a way the audience can believe.”
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