Toying with success: Tie-ins wrap up big $

Disney’s “Toy Story” and MGM/UA’s “Goldeneye” were the top two films going into last week, and both have the season’s biggest arsenal of marketing tie-ins.

Coincidence? Or is the unprecedented support, from Burger King to BMW, leading moviegoers to flock to theaters?

It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question because, logically, promotional partners seek out films that already are viewed as the strongest potential hits. Still, it bears asking just how much of “Goldeneye’s” $70 million take (in its first 17 days of release) is attributable to the marketing hoopla surrounding it.

Or for that matter, whether Story” “Toy Story” ($65 million in 12 days) would be outpacing last summer’s “Pocahontas” without Burger King’s largest-ever promotion – worth an estimated $45 million in ads and premiums.

“It’s hard to quantify what effort accounts for any given percentage of box office business,” says Gerry Rich, president of marketing at MGM/UA. But $50 million worth of ad buys and promotions from BMW, Omega watches, Yves Saint Laurent and others, unusual in their scope for a non-kids’ film, “created an event-type release” for the 007 film, Rich says. “That obviously gives you greater share of voice and helps break through what is always a cluttered environment.”

Disney won promotional help for Woody and Buzz Lightyear to the tune of $125 million, including $50 million in media, that allowed the studio to cut back on its own $15 million-$20 million in ad support, while letting Burger King, Nestle and Minute Maid foot the bill.

“With the cost of media being as expensive as it is, it’s nice when you have partners spending millions of dollars in media, carrying your message to the public,” says Brett Dicker, senior VP, promotions, at Walt Disney Pictures.

“We really spend the money we need to spend to open up a film; once the picture enters the marketplace, the promotions serve as reminders,” minimizing the need for so-called maintenance advertising.

It’s easy to see why tie-in partners duke it out to be associated with potential hit films.

In the first week of Burger King’s “Toy Story” promotion, which preceded the film’s Nov. 22 opening by nearly a week, the fast-feeder doubled its normal sales of Kids Meals vs. last year, when a similar effort backed the holiday re-release of “The Lion King.”

A record 6.4 million rug-rat repasts were distributed that week alone, and BK now expects to run out of 50 million toys – far more than in previous Disney promotions – well before Christmas. Some stores had to set up recorded messages to deal with the influx of phone calls from parents demanding to know the toy of the day. The chain by next week will nastily add packs of trading cards to the mix, possibly mounting another ad campaign that will boost the film still more.

BMW of North America, which supplied the Bond pic’s Z3 roadster, says the car won’t be available for sale until early next year, but dealers already have received 7,000 pre-orders. Most came in the two weeks following the “Goldeneye” premiere, when East Coast showroom traffic was up 70%.

Industry observers say the tie-ins unquestionably help sales of licensed merchandise, and may even add luster to the image of a Disney or a James Bond. But far less clear is the ultimate value of those tie-ins in building box office.

There’s little in the way of empirical evidence that proves a promotion’s value in that all-important venue. But there are examples, as with Paramount’s “Congo” last summer, where strong campaigns and tie-ins helped pictures beat the odds against negative reviews.

When tracking studies ask moviegoers what motivates them to see a film: “Most of them will say TV, and you don’t know whether that was your commercial or a commercial for Burger King,” says Dick Cook, president of worldwide marketing for Buena Vista. “You can’t take any one in isolation and try to say, ‘That was the reason.'”

Of course, studios don’t much care to dissect a marketing plan’s components, so long as they’re succeeding. And the value of studio publicity mills can’t be discounted, especially when they’ve generated countless magazine covers for both films, before and since their releases.

But industry execs agree that “Goldeneye” – whose dated James Bond franchise was considered by some an iffy prospect – isn’t likely to have headed toward the $100 million club without extensive tie-ins. Some of those, notably BMW’s spiffy $15 million ad campaign, seamlessly integrated the film’s concept and its star, Pierce Brosnan, into the car’s motif. I t also provided a publicity hook for business pages, further promoting the film to adult audiences, as did the ads for watches and fashions in lifestyle magazines.

“The marketing campaign, and putting the BMW car in there, becomes a news story,” says Howard Lichtman, exec VP, marketing, at Cineplex Odeon Corp. “News creates the aura of a hit or a must-see, and that’s what it’s all about.”

“We’re not really movie promoters,” says Richard Brooks, a BMW spokesman, “but I think we got a few people to the theaters just to see the car.”

“I’ve been doing promotions for 10 or 11 years, and I’ve not seen this many typical consumers, people not in the business, associating ‘Goldeneye’ and BMW,” says Karen Sortito, the MGM/UA senior VP who handled the tie-ins. “That’s got to have made a difference.”

“Toy Story” had its own built-in advantages, among them a lack of kiddie competitors, newfangled computer animation and an unexpected appeal to a much wider age group than Disney’s typical family fare. Adults are seeing it in higher numbers, even without kids.

Which only goes to prove the point that without inherent appeal, no amount of marketing bluster will carry a film past opening weekend.

“My personal opinion is, if ‘Toy Story’ was a bad movie or ‘Goldeneye’ was a bad movie, it would not have done well, period,” says Jim Fredrick, president of marketing at Castle Rock Pictures. Ultimately, he says, “You’ve got to give the credit to the movie.”

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