Falling off the brand wagon

Studios cope with ad-versity in lining up promo partners

General Motors is one of the largest advertisers in the world. It gains serious respect from the $3 billion it spends per year to market its vehicles. But in Hollywood, the company is still an outsider.

The automaker’s not alone.

Hollywood is increasingly turning to Madison Avenue clients to help market films, TV shows, music and videogames, but when putting promotional partnerships together, the entertainment and ad industries still find it a difficult mating game.

Product placement has proliferated in all forms of entertainment, with everyone from Coca-Cola to Cadillac working to promote a film or TV launch. Hundreds of millions of dollars are involved. Though product placement has been going on for decades, it’s no longer a simple matter of Reese’s Pieces being used in “E.T. the ExtraTerrestrial,” which is then promoted in the candymaker’s ads. The new factor is that money is changing hands, and that’s causing headaches. .

For example, the filmmakers agreed that footage from “The Matrix: Reloaded” could be used in Cadillac ads, but actress Carrie-Anne Moss balked, saying endorsements weren’t part of her deal.

In contrast, Angelina Jolie asked for no money as “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” images were plastered all over ads for Jeep; the Oscar winner simply saw the blurbs as another form of promos for the film.

There are no rules, and Madison Avenue execs, who feel they are investing in a film’s marketing, are voicing frustrations over dealing with finicky and overprotective filmmakers who often don’t want to provide talent or even footage for promotional campaigns.

“Studios sometimes don’t deliver,” says Faith Zuckerman, senior VP of entertainment strategy and corporate alliances at Omnicom’s Arnell Group, which reps Jeep, Pepsi, McDonald’s, M&Ms and Reebok, among others.

“They say whatever they need to get us on board. We’re told ‘it’s not a problem’ — until you ask for something at which point it becomes impossible to get. That’s not going to work anymore for clients who demand a greater level of partnership.”

Producers express equal frustration over the process.

The promotional partners, they complain, line up for the “hot” mainstream pictures that already have high awareness , but are unwilling to support chancier projects that are in far greater need of support. The no-risk strategy is at odds with the realities of filmmaking, they suggest.

The stakes are high.

Electronics giant Samsung ponied up $100 million to associate itself with Warner Bros.’ “Matrix Reloaded.”

Add to that the power of the brands themselves — Jeep has more name recognition among moviegoers than “Tomb Raider,” for example — and the reach of a brand’s spending.

Samsung’s marketing dollars helped Warners promote “Reloaded” in 54 countries and in territories, like France, that don’t allow movie promos on television. Similarly, companies like Heineken have provided considerable support for pics overseas.

What brands want is simple: access to a film and its stars as early as possible. They want to use key scenes or stills of their products from a film in their own TV commercials or other advertisements. They also want talent to appear in spots, whether it’s in shots taken directly from a pic or in brand new ads — for free.

This summer, Jeep ads promoting Paramount’s “Lara Croft” sequel were shown on television and in theaters. In the spot, made to look like an action sequence from the film, Jolie appears as Croft racing away from pursuers behind the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (the vehicle also appears in the film). She says: “Let’s see them catch me now.”

No money was exchanged between Jeep and Paramount.

Thesps like Mike Myers, Ben Stiller and Matt Damon have appeared in ads for Heineken to promote “Austin Powers,” “Zoolander” and “The Bourne Identity.”

But Jeep’s ad with Jolie was a rare exception considering most talent declines offers to appear in a brand’s ads unless they receive endorsement dollars — something brands balk at, considering the money they’ve already agreed to spend to promote a pic.

“It’s unfortunately the nature of the business,” Zuckerman concedes. “When talent representatives hear a big company is involved, they see big dollar signs and say ‘what’s a few million to them?'”

Agencies stress that talent needs to realize that starring in additional ads only helps the film’s final B.O.

“It’s promotion for your movie,” Zuckerman says. “If people see an actor’s movie and it drives them into theaters, that increases the actor’s box office clout.

“The studios have to stop being afraid of their talent and be willing to go to bat for their promotional partners. They have to get their talent on board You repeatedly hear, ‘so and so would never do that.’ But I fear they’re never asked.”

Universal is rolling out several promotional deals for its pic “The Cat in the Hat.”

“Never promise things up front that you can’t deliver,” says Stephanie Sperber, senior VP of Universal Studios’ Partnership Development Group.

“Honesty is always the best policy. We couldn’t promise Mike Myers, but we could promise companies the use of the cat.”

“Matrix Reloaded” fit the requirements of General Motors when it was looking for a way to make its sleekly redesigned Cadillacs more appealing to younger buyers. Company provided “Reloaded’s” production with 24 prototypes of the vehicles that wouldn’t hit dealerships until a year later.

“We’re not looking at placement for placement’s sake,” says Mary Moore, Cadillac’s promotions manager. “Our overall marketing philosophy is to do something that’s big and bold.”

Cadillac’s only requirements: It wanted the vehicles to appear prominently in the film and be associated with a main character. They also had to be on screen for at least 60 seconds.

The company wanted to use scenes of the film’s cast driving its vehicles in a series of TV commercials. But the plug was pulled after talent asked for endorsement fees.

The film’s directors, the Wachowski brothers, and producer Joel Silver also limited what footage the company could use, wanting to closely guard the film’s pivotal freeway chase sequence which features Cadillac’s CTS sedan and Escalade EXT SUV.

Officially, “it was agreed on all sides that we wouldn’t pursue television,” Moore says, in an effort to not “over-commercialize” the film.

Pic’s other promo partners Samsung, Heineken and Powerade, however, launched multimillion-dollar print, TV and theater campaigns (their ads featured look-alikes of the cast, including Carrie Ann Moss and the villains).

The companies also are prominently featured on the “Matrix Reloaded” DVD in an extra featurette about the pic’s partners. Cadillac is not included.

In the future, Cadillac’s Moore says that Hollywood’s creative community “needs to be open to non-traditional promotional ideas. We don’t want images of talent unless they’re linked to our product. ”

The studios can’t solely be blamed for hiccups at the negotiating table.

Studio marketing mavens say they’re willing to communicate the progress of a film’s production and marketing program. But brands often don’t get what they want because they don’t know what to ask for. Their demands are often unrealistic or inadequately stated until it’s too late, say studio execs.

This is why many corporate giants have hired product placement shops like Norm Marshall & Associates or Davie-Brown Entertainment, Hollywood talent agencies or indie consultants to broker deals.

“Helping corporate America navigate the entertainment world is really our critical role,” says Devery Holmes, prexy of Norm Marshall & Associates, which reps GM, Heineken and Samsung, among other clients. One potential answer may be brokering more long-term deals between studios and advertisers, instead of one-off, per-project deals. The thinking is, how can a brand decide on one film when a studio makes 20 to 30 per year? How can they be sure which one film will work?

Universal Pictures has a 10-year pact with Coca-Cola and Nestle Waters, and five-year deals with Mastercard and Kodak to promote their products within U’s movies, TV shows, music, videogames and theme parks. Studio also has a first-look pact with Toyota, in which the carmaker has first dibs on which pics it wants its cars to appear in.

“We have partnerships that are longer-term instead of turning over each time with a new project,” Sperber says. “It takes time and investment to understand a partner and why they’re leveraging entertainment. Most studios do dialing for dollars. They cold call. We’re invested long term with our partners. We know they won’t go away.”

But some advertisers would rather not connect themselves to just one studio or conglom.

Moore: “You box yourself in. . It’s important to shop yourself around.”

Despite the “Tomb Raider” sequel’s disappointing $65 million domestic tally, Jeep considers the tie-in a success.

Says Zuckerman, “Would we have liked this to be super huge? Yes. But that would have been gravy. It’s so hard to say what’s going to be a hit. We look for a property or character that represents the brand. The personality of Lara Croft fit Jeep perfectly. If Jeep werea woman, she would be Lara Croft — capable, can-do, rugged, somewhat fearless.”

And Cadillac’s also satisfied with its appearance in “The Matrix” sequel, despite the pic’s delay to complete its extensive post-production needs — a year after Cadillac’s new cars hit dealerships.

“Initially we were kind of bummed,” Moore says. “But it turned out positive for us. We were very pleased with all of the PR and buzz that we got.”

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