Korean electronics maker to promote indie films

Independent film has a new corporate friend: Samsung.

The Korean electronics maker has partnered with Landmark Theaters to promote indie pics, beginning with Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild.”

Strategy isn’t meant to push a specific Samsung product but to bolster the company’s brand image among American consumers, especially the affluent auds that indies attract.

For Paramount Vantage’s “Into the Wild,” which starts rolling out in a limited run Tuesday, Samsung will launch a multimillion-dollar marketing effort for the film that includes onscreen spots in Landmark Theaters, print ads in newspapers and magazines, billboards, as well as an extensive online effort that includes the launch of Blueseat.com, which offers exclusive video content and interviews with the pic’s filmmakers.

“Into the Wild” will be the first of two pics that Samsung plans to promote this year. An agreement for the second has not yet been finalized with Focus Features. Samsung has sought films that exhibit a filmmaker’s “true vision” and are commercially appealing, company execs said.

Marketing effort also includes the sponsorship of Landmark’s ongoing Truly Indie program, in which an emerging filmmaker gets the chance to distribute his film in five markets nationwide.

Samsung also will install two blue seats in 53 auditoriums in 10 Landmark theaters throughout the country that provide auds with the “best seat in the house.” Consumers who sit in those seats will be awarded with special offers from Samsung.

Partnership with Landmark is expected to become an ongoing effort for Samsung, with the company putting a heavy emphasis on its Blueseat website.

For example, site will eventually be the home of “Project Greenlight”-style reality project “Blueseat on Set,” in which the company tracks a pic’s production from script to screen.

Samsung’s pact with Landmark grew out of a promotion the duo teamed on last year to screen a Blu-ray version of Magnolia Pictures’ “The Architect” in select cities. Pic was co-produced by 2929 Entertainment, owned by Landmark’s Mark Cuban.

Samsung has been active in Hollywood before, placing its products in films including “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Fantastic Four” and “Superman Returns” and launching extensive campaign around those pics.

It will continue to back certain high-profile studio tentpoles, but it wanted to connect with indie auds as well, because those consumers fit with Samsung’s target demo of people who buy its high-end LCD TVs and mobile phones, among other products.

“The biggest challenge we have is setting ourselves apart from the competition,” said Kris Narayanan, director of integrated marketing for Samsung Electronics America. “We’re still a growing brand in the U.S. We wanted a way to gain some emotional connection with the American audience and grow brand-preference numbers.”

Narayanan added that the independent film-loving audience of 25- to 45-year-olds is “demographically very similar to our brand target audience. It’s essentially mass affluent with the desire for technology early in its life cycle.”

Landmark was only too happy to expand its relationship with Samsung, first brokered by Landmark senior VP of sales Madelyn Hammond. (Hammond was formerly employed by Variety and is returning this month in an advisory capacity.)

Samsung becomes the latest marketing giant to throw its money behind smaller pics, following in the footsteps of Gatorade, which promoted Picturehouse’s “Gracie,” and, of course, Starbucks, which backed Lionsgate’s “Akeelah and the Bee” and Par Classics’ “Arctic Tale.”

Samsung is working closely with Par Vantage to coordinate media buys to avoid overlap in certain media.

Distribs are welcoming marketing partners with open arms, but there is a fear that having a major brand as a partner may take away some of that indie cachet those same brands are seeking in the first place.

“When an independent film partners with a company like Samsung, is it still indie?” asked Chris Hong of Samsung’s ad shop Cheil Communications America. “There’s a thin line between celebrating independent film and dominating independent film. We didn’t want to cross that line. We felt that Samsung shouldn’t be a partner to the film but be there to showcase the film.”

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