Studio hopes fantasy series will 'Ring' success

After winning big on the potentially risky “Lord of the Rings” franchise, New Line is betting yet again on a pricey fantasy book series, “His Dark Materials,” with the first pic “The Golden Compass” set to bow Dec. 7.

New Line faces a more daunting marketing challenge this time around, even with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig on the marquee, because the “Dark Materials” series lacks the classic-lit pedigree and worldwide recognition of the “Rings” series.

To aid its cause, studio has enlisted a bevy of blue-chip brands which are committing more than $50 million in marketing and promo support for “Compass.”

Studio also is devoting significant coin of its own to introduce U.S. moviegoers to author Philip Pullman’s fantasy world, in which talking animals serve as the souls of humans and armored polar bears fight wars. The $150 million “Compass” is planned as the first of a trilogy.

Brand partners set to tubthump for the pic’s opening next month include Coca-Cola Co., Burger King, Wal-Mart, Target, Sega, the World Wildlife Fund, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Best Buy, Emusic, FAO Schwarz, Corgi Intl., Toys R Us, Trans World Entertainment, Circuit City, Marie Claire and Scholastic.

Planned promo push by outside marketers surpasses what “The Lord of the Rings” franchise had backing it. Total value of brand-backed marketing is $120 million, studio estimates.

“It’s definitely the most important property we’ve had since ‘Lord of the Rings,'” said Rolf Mittweg, New Line’s prexy and chief operating officer of worldwide distribution and marketing. “We’ll be spending accordingly.”

In addition to the marketing, New Line has brokered more than 75 licensed partners to produce “Golden Compass”-related merchandise that covers everything from toys, games, electronics, stationery, health and beauty to accessories and, naturally, books.

The extra marketing muscle that rolls out this month will essentially flood retailers with “Compass”-branded merchandise, with most marketers also planning TV spots, print and online ads, circulars and in-store events and displays.

“The release of ‘The Golden Compass’ is a true global event, and the scope of our promotional partners on the film reflect that,” Mittweg said.

Biggest benefit to New Line will be overseas, where marketers are spending most of their ad dollars.

Help from brands in foreign territories has proved especially important, as studios spend most of their marketing budgets domestically. In the case of “Compass,” New Line needs the help to educate auds on the book and its subject matter outside of the United Kingdom, where it’s best known.

Mittweg said partnerships will complement studio’s efforts. “The combined efforts will be a very powerful tool for us,” he said.

For example, Burger King will launch kids meals in Europe, Asia and Latin America with “Compass” toys. No promos are planned in fast feeder’s U.S. eateries because pic is rated PG-13.

Coke will distrib 12 million co-branded cups in movie theaters worldwide, and buy in-theater displays and on-screen ads in venues. It’s only the fourth time Coke has done a global concession program of this size.

In Japan, Toyota will run a tie-in partnership to launch its Noah minivan.

Gap Kids will run a promotion in 125 stores across the U.K. featuring a chance to “Win a Part in the Subtle Knife” sweepstakes as well as in store signage.

Meanwhile, Cereal Partners Worldwide will feature “Compass” on 20 million cereal boxes throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia. Nestle is the cereal partner in the U.S.

Stateside, Amazon.com, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Trans World Entertainment and Scholastic will run promotions tied to the books and vidgame, the latter of which is exclusively created by Sega and bows before the pic’s release.

Wal-Mart is doing the same, but will have an exclusive promotional DVD to offer buyers of the vidgame.

Meanwhile, Target will highlight “Compass” at its bakery shops, and Marie Claire will feature Kidman on the cover of its December issue in the U.S. and overseas. And World Wildlife Fund will tap into pic’s animal theme and promote the species seen in the film via a co-branded website and a public service announcement, featuring “Compass” star Dakota Blue Richards.

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