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Promo Matchmakers

27 May, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

Tie-in firms help studios match products with DVDs.

When Cinderella needed help to get to the ball and hook up with Prince Charming, she called a fairy godmother. To hook up with Swiffer, she needed a team of promotional specialists.

“It was a great tie-in,” said Max Goldberg, president of promotional consulting business Max Goldberg and Associates and formerly a promotions executive at Buena Vista Home Entertainment. “Disney does not usually let their classics be affiliated with cleaning products, but in the case of Cinderella, it was a natural fit. For many years, Disney felt they would not do a promotion with laundry soap because laundry soap was not fun.”

Staff experts at Disney engineered that promotion for the anniversary release of Cinderella, he said. But studios often use a mix of staff and consultants to create tie-ins to boost retail sales. Like Goldberg, those consultants often are people who strike out on their own after working for studio promotion departments.

Mitch Litvak held theatrical promotion posts at Buena Vista and Universal Studios before starting The L.A. Office in 1994. The company began by doing one-on-one consulting, but has evolved to host the annual Road Show and Industry Insights events that put studio representatives and packaged-goods companies together.

“We're perfectmatch.com for the entertainment marketing world,” he said. “We provide them with the information and let them work it out.”

A company looking to introduce a product targeting women next year might want to partner with the 20th anniversary edition of Dirty Dancing, while companies with children's products might be more interested in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD slated for the upcoming holiday season. The L.A. Office lists both, and many more, in its database.

Like Charming's royal ball, the relationship between studios and other packaged-goods companies is an intricate dance in which the same companies change partners and pair off and promote the next DVD.

“More often, the content side goes out to the packaged [product] side,” Goldberg said. “But you get a title like Shrek 3, and people know it's going to be big and they call us.”

For studios, the greatest benefit comes from partnering with products like soda pop that already have high-profile advertising and prime retail real estate.

“You look at which companies are the fast-moving consumer goods, and you look at which ones are used by people in the target demographic group and which ones advertise,” Goldberg said. “It's whatever motivates consumers. It's having your DVDs displayed side-by-side with the product in the store.”

Getting on a studio's dance-card can rely largely on who you know.

“I have been on the promotional side of the marketing industry for about 15 years, and I think a lot of it is just building up a good Rolodex,” said Lance Still, EVP of national promotions at New Line Cinema and New Line Home Entertainment.

“There is a huge competitive advantage in knowing who to call and what's available,” Litvak added.

Studios have elaborate lists of conditions that must be met in pairing a product with a movie. Disney's animated characters, for example, must always be seen in their own worlds, Goldberg said, and DreamWorks characters must never be seen holding or eating partner products.

Nonetheless, he said, “It is a lot easier to get partners for animated films than for live-action films because Shrek doesn't have an agent.”

Animated films also are good promotional partners because their family appeal fits with consumer goods. “We've turned partners down that were interested in a property, but it did not fit,” Still said.

Yet, not all product promotions are self-evident. New Line's main partners for the “Lord of the Rings” franchise were Kia, Verizon and Duracell. While nothing in Middle Earth runs on batteries, the crew used Duracell batteries in their wireless microphones, so marketers at New Line and Gilette crafted a campaign based on trust in the product.

New Line's in-house promotions division works closely with product creative teams to create ads that will work with the product and the title.

“I loved Wedding Crashers and Budweiser,” Still said. “The fact that our director directed the commercials worked out really well.”

Even though the theatrical and DVD releases are staggered, marketers often are pitching for both release windows at the same time.

“There's a separate budget for DVD,” Goldberg said. “It's also a completely different kind of marketing plan. Instead of driving consumers into a theater, you're driving them into retail stores. What works for the movie release is exposure. Your goal in a DVD release is exposure and sales. That ‘and sales' is more than 50% of it.”

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