Hype and glory in Vegas

MPAA chief Glickman surprises with marketing statistic

Studios flexed their marketing muscles up and down the Las Vegas strip last week.

They splashed movie ads across blackjack tables, cabs and airport luggage carousels; they jetted stars to town for photo ops with small-time exhibs, screened miles of trailers and staged lavish parties with showgirls hanging from the ceiling.

So it came as something of a surprise when MPAA chief Dan Glickman announced March 15 that studio marketing spending, which has risen unchecked in recent years, dropped 12% in 2004 to $34.4 million per picture.

Marketing execs were stupefied.

“I don’t know how they get those numbers,” said one. “They’re meaningless,” said another.

But a quick survey of the ad market offers a few easy explanations:

  • Foremost among them is a drop in spot TV buys; studios bought 2.4% fewer last year.

  • Cuts in newspaper, magazine, radio and outdoor marketing. Print ads dropped 1.1%, as studios invested more heavily in visceral ad vehicles like trailers and Internet ads.

“We’re a visual medium,” Warner Bros domestic marketing prexy Dawn Taubin said. “I don’t buy a lot of valet tickets, hotel keys or the separator bars used at grocery store checkout aisles.”

  • The shifting corporate structure of MPAA member companies.

    MGM throttled back its ad and production spending in 2004 as it prepared to be engulfed by Sony; Disney put Miramax on a tight leash.

    And Paramount and Universal sought new efficiencies with their sibling TV nets, promoting titles through co-branding initiatives rather than huge inventories of primetime ads.

  • Lastly, studios have stepped up product tie-ins, which has allowed them to offload some ad costs on other industries, including fast food, toys and telecom.

    Fox recently boasted that it had secured $100 million in promo deals with companies like AOL and Burger King.

    MPAA statistics on studio marketing are perplexing because they’re impossible to verify.

    But one thing’s clear at ShoWest. As Taubin notes, “Regardless of whether spending goes up or goes down, it’s big.”

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