It sounds like a marketer's Hollywood daydream: Oscar-winning movie director decides his next film will be about your product. And the movie title will be the name of your product. And your product will be in every single shot. That was the happy situation in which Tourism Australia found itself in 2006, when word got out about film director Baz Luhrmann's next project, Australia.
The Moulin Rouge director paired Nicole Kidman with Hugh Jackman in a story line that already sounds like a tourism come-on. Kidman, playing an uptight Englishwoman, travels Down Under, where she finds adventure, romance and her true self. The lavish 20th Century Fox film is the most expensive Australian movie ever made, with an estimated $130 million price tag.
"It showcases all the key aspects [of our marketing]," says Michelle Gysberts, vice president of the Americas region for Tourism Australia. "The essence of the whole movie is how the country transforms you." In what may be a first, Tourism Australia, a government-run agency, hired Luhrmann to produce the central elements of its 2009 campaign, called "Transformation." In two videos, Brandon Walters, the Aboriginal child actor whose character is a magical and pure presence in the movie, promises a trip to Australia will deliver no less than rebirth - for your soul and your relationship. "Come walkabout," he whispers seductively.
Two mini-movies, one in English and one in Chinese, share the film's story line in which a hard-charging executive who's lost touch with loved ones finds his or her true self after a trip Down Under. "Sometimes we have to get lost to find ourselves," is the tagline. The spots - in several formats running from :30 to 1:30, with the longer versions running online - were produced by Luhrmann's Bazmark production company in conjunction with Revolver, a commercial production company, and directed by Aussie Bruce Hunt.
TA began working with Fox in 2006, and signed up Bazmark in 2007. At first, ta simply requested some footage from Fox. Then, marketing director Nick Baker had a discussion with Luhrmann, who pointed out that it would be easier if he simply produced the commercials.
Says Gysberts, "As you can imagine, for a marketing department, having an international movie director produce your commercial is phenomenal. What Fox is doing with their marketing is something we'd never be able to do. It was exciting for us to get into the slipstream of that and wrap a marketing campaign around it."
DDB Worldwide, which swiped the account from Saatchi & Saatchi in May 2008, hopped into the project midstream to create print and digital ads shot in every state and territory of Oz and playing off the two Bazmark executions. The agency is creating a follow-up campaign to launch in the second half of 2009.
"We tried to mirror the spirit of the tv spots," says Eric Koehler, group account director for DDB Worldwide. "But rather than just lifting literal images from the video, our Sydney office provided a library of imagery and concepts for us to pick and choose from."
The media strategy was "Fish where the fish are," according to Peter Evans, vice president and group director for Carat usa, which handled media buying. The biggest play was an online partnership with Orbitz. While destination marketing campaigns typically make heavy use of print, Evans says, "We felt that the story was so strong from a video perspective that it would be a mistake not to bring it to life. The focus became leveraging the conversation with the consumer that Fox had built, and then close the deal when they came online."
The campaign launched on October 8 and is expected to run in 22 global markets through
mid-2009. "The timing was brilliant," Evans adds. "The film kicked off at what is traditionally the start of Australia's marketing season."
In addition to hiring The Baz, the Fox marketing partnership included postcards, movie posters, an advertorial template and print ads with the ta logo on them, featuring the stars in a hot kiss. ta created an industry tool kit in-house, with Fox's approval, to go out to all retail travel agencies in the United States. The kit included postcards, invitations, tour shells (blank sheets they can print itineraries on), and a Web-based training module for travel pros.
The spots and other campaign materials were seeded to social networking sites including YouTube, Facebook and Flickr, as well as country-specific sites such as Ninemsn in Australia. All in all, Tourism Australia invested $50 million for the tie-in campaign, representing what it calls "the bulk" of its annual marketing budget.
Philippa Burgess, a principal in Creative Convergence, an agency that crafts cross-media deals for authors and screenwriters, says studios are hungry for such deals, with giant departments devoted to identifying and forging marketing alliances. "Printing and advertising a movie costs as much as the production, so they're always looking to take on partners and minimize the risk."
The potency of this mix of media and entertainment was shown before the movie premiered: The November cover story in Travel & Leisure magazine was a tour of the Top End, the region where the movie was filmed, led by its casting director. The editorial mentioned the movie and, to hammer it in, it also featured a half-page spread on Hugh Jackman's favorite places in Sydney. The story was a pr coup for Tourism Australia, along with covers and features for Vogue and Women's Weekly.
Despite the hype, the movie was neither a critical nor a box office success: The worldwide gross in 2008 was just $90.5 million. Even though fewer people than hoped were exposed to the full 165 minutes of Australian scenery, ta definitely got bang for its buck, Burgess says.
"The movie posters looked a lot like travel billboards," she points out, "so the exposure the country got as a tourist destination was enormous. People didn't need to see the movie to get the message." In addition, ta got a free ride on the six months of pre-release buzz, as well as on the studio's entire marketing campaign. Finally, it got a contact high from the actors' star power.
Burgess calculates that ta might not have had to spend $50 million to hire Kidman and Jackman as spokespeople, nor on commercial production. But add in the media spend for a traditional campaign, and the price tag might have been close. In short, she says, "I think they got their money's worth."