Industry Watch: Big Brands Hit the Red Carpet

A Hollywood connection can give a product star power

Ah, the limelight. The red carpet. The glitz and glamour that attends the entertainment industry.  And above all, the intense public attention.

It’s no wonder consumer brands want to find more ways to share the spotlight. And with nearly every new entertainment campaign doing something online — from posting previews to hosting branded video games — there’s plenty of room for creative partnerships.

The advantage is strong. By aligning with an entertainment property, brands can promote their own attributes, be associated with a movie or awards show, and make use of the entertainment industry’s significant reach and frequency, says Janet Balis, senior vice president of sales development for AOL.

“I think the benefit for marketers is a bit of a ‘one and one equals three’ proposition,” Balis says. Entertainment companies “have become incredibly savvy about how to market,” she says. “They really take a 360 approach.”

And they generate a tremendous draw. Entertainment sites are one of the top five genres for online ad placement, ranking above sports sites, shopping and auction sites, and financial sites, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Entertainment sites racked up 2.24 billion ad impressions in one week in February, for example. Only news, e-mail, search engines, and social networking sites beat that. 

Playing the Game

But marketers want more than a square ad on a dynamic entertainment page. They’re looking for more seamless ways to share in the massive reach of entertainment properties.

Branded games are proving a popular way to integrate. The AOL microsite for the new Mark Burnett reality show, “Gold Rush,” included games such as T-Mobile’s “Either Ore: You Make the Call,” a celebrity trivia quiz.

DreamWorks promoted its computer-animated film Flushed Away with an AOL-hosted game site. “We were able to extend the story and really deepen the level of engagement,” Balis says. “We approached brands who were looking to reach moms and kids in particular.”

The offering included 30 games, a sweepstakes, and prizes from the sponsors. The integrated message and the alignment with a innovative, family-friendly movie attracted brands such as AMD — whose processors were used by DreamWorks to make the film — Kohl’s, and Sara Lee.

“We felt this was happy; it was very all-family. It was something that our customers would be interested in,” says Benny Lawrence, director of media and connection planning for Sara Lee Food and Beverage.

Around the same time, Sara Lee launched its new campaign, The Joy of Eating. The branded “Flushed Away” game became part of that. “It was a nice tie-in,” says Lawrence, adding that the company was looking to associate with light, cheerful efforts.

Power Partnerships

Sony took advantage of its relationship with the Columbia Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios’ film Casino Royale, and integrated its electronics not just in the movie, but in a branded online game room.

James Bond fans could play BRAVIA Blackjack, VAIO/Intel poker, CyberShot T-50 slots, or Blu-Ray Disc roulette. Their chips could be redeemed for a chance to win Sony merchandise or a weekend getaway.

“We understood that there are many James Bond fans across the world, and the film symbolizes cool gadgets,” a Sony spokesman says. “We felt that it was a perfect match to promote the James Bond film and VAIO notebook PCs together. VAIO brand benefited greatly from the pure exposure.”

Brands that partner with major Hollywood studios find themselves aligned with powerful online spenders. The studios are expected to more than double their commitment to online advertising by 2010, from $226 million in 2006 to $526 million a year, according to eMarketer. Media and entertainment spending overall is predicted to rocket from $1.6 billion in 2006 to $3.2 billion in 2010.

Brands do well to look at indies, too. Adobe, for one, values its partnership with the Sundance Film Festival, a showcase for independent films. “Outreaching to the entertainment and publishing market is one of Adobe’s top priorities,” says Terry Fortescue, Adobe’s director of marketing, Web and video.

And no wonder: Fortescue estimates that half the films at Sundance used its editing or effects products, and that 90 percent used Photoshop.

“It draws [our] demographic,” Fortescue says. “It’s just a great platform for us. We get great product ideas, we learn about new workflows, we get a chance to talk to other brands.”

This year, Adobe added an online component to the partnership. Adobe invited six students to the festival for networking and learning opportunities, and tied everything together with the Reel Ideas Studio, an online forum that not only hosted student work, but reinforced the tie between Adobe and Sundance.

“We had [students] capturing daily activities at the festival and … do daily video blogs and blogs in the gallery,” says Claire Erwin, Adobe’s senior marketing manager, worldwide education.

Adobe plans to expand the program for the Cannes Film Festival in May. Student teams will post their project’s scope on the Web site and invite participation.

“They’re going to be asking for specific footage or graphics or music, or things that will round out their documentary,” Erwin says. “If the files are accepted, the ‘virtual’ team members get a software prize.” 

Common Values

As online marketers struggle with competition and clutter, consumer brands are likely to find that the entertainment industry can help them break through and get their message across.

“I think entertainment companies are looking to surround consumers in a variety of ways that they didn’t before,” says AOL’s Balis. “That’s opened up a whole new landscape for marketers.”

All that innovation means the entertainment industry is ripe with new opportunities for brands to collaborate online, but the partnerships seem to work best when the values of both properties are well-aligned. Is your brand cool and adventurous like James Bond, or fun-loving and friendly like characters on “Flushed Away”?

Sara Lee’s Lawrence says the company thinks of its own mission first before committing. “When we look at entertainment properties, we start with our strategy and look for something that will really fit.”

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