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Holy synergy, Batman!

Warner Bros. has crafted a marketing program for its third Batflick, "Batman Forever," that reaches a level of synergy among Warner's various divisions that no other Hollywood studio has been able to achieve save for the Walt Disney Co. The film opens June 16.

The effort, with more than $60 million in media from Warner and the film's promotion partners, begins rolling out this week with the launch of Warner's first Web site for a single film and the rededication of all its studio stores as "official Batman headquarters." The stores and site will promote each other, and a new "Batman" ad campaign that broke May 14 will include plugs for both.

In fact, be on the lookout for plugs in the strangest of places, like the front page of The New York Times, via those quirky ad squibs that run near the newspaper's index. Warner runs its first squib today-a riddle that readers will have to log-on to Warner's Batsite to get the answer. Address for the "Batman" site is http://batmanforver.com/.

Looming on the horizon is a McDonald's Corp. promotion that will launch June 1, supported by TV spots from DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago. In addition to "Batman Forever" Extra Value Meals and glass mugs, more than 30 million trayliners will promote the stores and a promotion for "Batman" merchandise.

Also on tap: new comics and promotions from Warner unit D.C. Comics; a tie-in with the Warner-produced "Batman" animated series on Fox; an e-mail campaign targeting media industry professionals; and promotions from Acclaim Entertainment, Kelloggs, and Kenner Toys.

Warner is flexing such marketing muscle not only to launch its biggest film of the year, but to relaunch a franchise that was running out of steam. "Batman" in '89 did $251 million at the box office. "Batman Returns" in '92 did a blockbuster-worthy $163 million, but the film, directed by brooding auteur Tim Burton, was deemed dark, grim and not much fun. Even McDonald's groused that the tone wasn't appropriate for its image.

"There was less interest among licensees and more of a wait-and-see attitude," said Dan Romanelli, Warner's worldwide consumer products president. But that was before Mr. Burton and Batactor Michael Keaton exited and a new director, Joel Schumacher, and new Batman, Val Kilmer, entered. "Joel told licensees that this was going to be a lighter, brighter, more exciting `Batman' and they trusted his vision," said Mr. Romanelli.

Warner will begin repositioning its studio stores on Tuesday in New York, where windows will feature large rotating signs and display "Batman" merchandise. The 150 field stores will follow suit with "Batman" boutiques, banks of video monitors running exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, wrapping paper, shopping bags and employee uniforms sporting Batcolors.

Also, more than 15 million studio store mini-catalogs showcasing "Batman" merchandise will be distributed through alternate Warner channels, including videos of "Richie Rich" (launching May 23), the Atlantic Records sound track, and at Six Flags theme parks; although Warner recently sold its holding in Six Flags, it maintains its marketing ties.

Warner's Web site, located on its Pathfinder server, is modeled after Gotham City and is designed for multiple visits. Visitors to the site can obtain information about the sound track album and even sample tracks.

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