Studios rolling out big guns to market Yule pix

This article was corrected on November 12, 1992. USA Today’s eight-page supplement on the 20th Century Fox film, “Home Alone 2 : Lost in New York,” will run on Friday, not today, as reported Wednesday.

It’s hard-sell season in Hollywood.

The limited release of the Walt Disney Co.’s “Aladdin” today marks the opening of the season traditionally accounting for at least 12% to 14% of the industry’s box office total.

Studio marketing exex and exhibitors view the estimated 20 major pix to be released before the end of the year–a roster of big-budget, star-driven vehicles–as among the most ambitious in recent years, and perhaps the most commercial as well.

There are slightly fewer releases than in years past and hardly any pictures are competing head-to-head with same-day openings.

But despite high levels of confidence about the movies’ artistic merits, Hollywood marketing departments are leaving little to chance.

There’s been lots of rhetoric about cutting marketing expenditures in recession-scarred 1992, but studio exex privately acknowledge media spending is bigger than ever because of the intense competition. In several cases, per-picture P&A budgets are expected to reach as high as $ 20 million.

At the same time, Hollywood is demonstrating greater ingenuity — in elaborate promotional alliances, in creative executions of advertising materials , the use of publicity and in the timing and selection of media.

o Hollywood Pictures’ Eddie Murphy vehicle “Distinguished Gentleman”– a tale of a con artist who gets elected to Congress — was among the first out with commercials several months ago and ran a heavy schedule around election coverage.

o If there’s such a thing as a sure bet, then “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” is it. (Pic opens Nov. 20 on more than 2,000 screens.)

Exex and exhibs almost uniformly predict that the pic, a sequel to the third-highest grossing film of all time, will be the number one film of the holiday season.

Despite high awareness for the pic, it was one of the first holiday offerings to be touted on the TV airwaves, as 20th Century Fox skedded numerous commercials Nov. 4 during programming aimed at children and families.

While Fox is spending competitively–sources estimate it at about $ 20 million over the life of the film — marketing prexy Andrea Jaffe insists it’s not excessive. The film, she says, “falls outside the realm of regular marketing decisions because of what happened with the first movie.” Studio exex expect the film to run for months.

As a supplement to studio outlay, $ 24 million will be spent on ads by the film’s promotional partners–three fast food chains that collectively represent 4,100 outlets around the country, Coca-Cola Co., L.A.Gear, Kellogg Co., plus an array of retail partners, such as Kids R Us and Bloomingdale’s. Tomorrow, USA Today will carry an 8-page, colorful supplement on the film sponsored by these companies.

That’s not to mention the 80 “Home Alone 2” products that will be out there via the 35 licensees connected with the film..

o The industry buzz says “Aladdin” is a sure-fire hit, but the challenge remains topping the $ 145 million at the box office registered by “Beauty and the Beast.”

Like “Home Alone 2,””Aladdin” receives the extra punch of marketing dollars from promotional partners. Disney is estimated to be spending about $ 10 million in media. But partner Burger King, with 5,700 outlets, is doing its bit to stimulate want-to-see, dispensing figurines with purchases, plus collectible cups featuring movie scenes. Two days before the films goes wide Nov. 25, the fast food chain will start its own TV ad promoting the “Aladdin” tie-in. That will include specially designed commercials aimed at Hispanic and African-Americans.

o “The Muppet Christmas Carol” has the challenge of being the third family film in a season of big competitors. This version of the Charles Dickens’ classic, which opens on Dec. 11, also has the marketing firepower of promotional partners: Tie-in partner Taco Bell is offering patrons Christmas decorations inspired by the movie, backed by point-of-sale materials at its locations, and Procter & Gamble’s Duncan Hines brand is setting up 18,000 displays in supermarkets where it will hand out free Kermit the Frog cookie cutters and offers for through-the-mail Muppets Melamine plates.

o Teaser ads and trailers for Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula have been in the marketplace for months, and the studio has lined up 33 tie-in partners that have come out with movie-inspired products. Exhibs say Columbia’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” has the advantage in being one of the first big holiday films in release.

Though studios are notoriously closed-mouthed about marketing budgets, all of the other major holiday releases present their own challenges, which the studios are meeting in a variety of ways.

o “Malcolm X” is riding a publicity juggernaut with director Spike Lee appearing everywhere. Trailers and commercials play up the movie’s epic scope and ads with the ubiquitous X symbol now feature copy illustrating the sweep of Malcolm’s life. There is a small and limited licensing program for posters tied into the movie, which the studio describes as “true to Malcolm X’s legacy.”

o The faces of stars Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston are almost hidden in Warner Bros. artwork for “The Bodyguard,” but it’s a different story with “Forever Young”: an enlarged image of Mel Gibson’s lovely face is the print ads’ key feature. Warners president of worldwide advertising, publicity and promotion Rob Friedman said the studio will run sneak previews of the female-skewing film, which opens Dec. 18.

o The star power of Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, plus the reputation of director Rob Reiner, are the key selling points of Columbia Pictures’ “A Few Good Men.” Trailers for film, opening Dec. 11, have been attached to “Dracula” and TV ads for the courtroom drama started airing as early as the World Series.

o Fox plans a slow rollout for “Used People,” and it’s also got “Toys” and “Hoffa” for the holidays. Trailers for “Toys” feature star Robin Williams, standing in a field, delivering one of his characteristic improvisations. It opens Dec. 18. “Hoffa” was originally slated for release on the same weekend as Nicholson’s other holiday pic, butFox moved the date to Christmas Day to avoid a direct confrontation. To further position it as a major event, the studio is locking up premier houses by going out with 100 75mm prints.

Fox’s Jaffe said “Hoffa” TV and print ad support will become “very active” around Thanksgiving. But with “Home Alone 2” and “Toys” on Fox’s roster, exhibitors question whether the studio can adequately support so many films.

o Teaser outdoor boards for Paramount Pictures’ sole holiday release, “Leap of Faith,” have been up for weeks. Closer to the movie’s Dec. 18 wide release, a second board will go up hinting at the story line: “Real Miracles. Sensibly priced.” Par has bought extensive cable buys to reach the 18-to-35-year-olds that are the movie’s target and is hoping a song featured in the movie, Meat Loaf’s 1970s “Paradise by the Dash Board,” will get a nice rotation on MTV.

o Universal Pictures is betting on “Trespass,” the season’s only action picture; pic, under the name “Looters,” was held from a summer release after the L.A. riots. U is breaking through the advertising clutter with an unusual trailer for “Lorenzo’s Oil” that is completely without dialogue. The nearly silent two-minute trailer outlines the story of parents who go against established medical practices in a quest to save their son.

For “Scent of a Woman,” U will for the first time hold a screening for Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members before it’s released.

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