Sequels spur spending spiral

Promo pacts try to offset bigger outlays

Conventional wisdom is that sequels should require far less in marketing and distribution costs.

They have built-in audiences, need more modest ad campaigns and offer more promotional partners.

But even with this summer’s proliferation of franchise pics, studios doubt they’re in for a cost savings. Rather, it’s the other way around.

“No one ever spends less,” says one studio pro on getting sequels into the marketplace. “The idea is that you’re not looking to hold back. Sequels at times have the tendency to go backwards, and you need to propel your film past the last one.”

When “Spider-Man 3” broke world B.O. records, the studio defended the pic’s high price tag and estimated marketing costs of $120 million.

Movie marketing on sequels costs more than ever.

One factor is day-and-date releasing. Another is “fear of failure.”

As a film gets a higher profile, major studios, desperate to protect against piracy, and also under the gun to ensure boffo weekends, send pics out as worldwide day-and date launches.

But launching a pic worldwide day-and-date means that all prints are brand new.

When Disney rolled with the previous “Pirates of the Caribbean” pic, the film launched domestically, but then stayed out of the global fray until the World Cup was over.

That enabled the Mouse House to send prints to other territories as the pic wound down domestically.

This time, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” hits the high seas all at once.

“With big day-and-date launches, you can’t control money on print costs,” says Mark Zoradi, president of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. “You need to utilize your prints worldwide. With day-and-date releasing, every print in every country is a brand new print.”

Studios have also tried to save by putting more money into interactive marketing. But advertising pros say such strategies are also getting more expensive.

“We’ve seen the biggest growth ever in interactive,” says Damon Wolf, a partner in ad agency Crew Creative, which has worked on campaigns for summer pics including the latest in the “Harry Potter” and “Bourne Identity” franchises, as well as “Bruce Almighty” sequel “Evan Almighty.”

“That’s the new medium, where you can go anywhere, and with more people buying (interactive advertising), there’s either new money or shifting money (into that segment).”

Marketing a sequel also should take less time. One top studio exec estimates that promotional materials for a sequel should hit 2.5 weeks before a pic hits theaters, whereas it takes up to a month to familiarize auds with a new property.

But Wolf says marketing budgets don’t vary too much between sequels and new properties.

“You still have to drive people to a certain place on a certain date. If it’s a franchise, a film can’t seem like the last one,” he says. “Audiences can’t think they’re just going to the same movie.”

Last year, according to data from TNS Media Intelligence, the biggest ad expenditure came from a non-sequel, Disney’s “Cars,” with $53.5 million in ad spending.

That pic was followed by “Superman Returns,” a relaunch of a franchise, with $45.5 million. Another sequel with a new actor playing a familiar lead role was “Casino Royale,” which cost $44.3 million to market, according to TNS data.

The only true sequel in the top 10 most-expensive-to-market pics last year was “Mission: Impossible 3,” according to TNS, which came in at No. 9 with a $41.3 million ad budget.

To keep marketing budgets down, studios are relying more and more on promotional partners to take the sting out of rising costs.

But the trick is not to over-saturate the market and wind up alienating core fans of a franchise as some pics have done in the past.

“There have been examples in the past of overhype and oversaturation,” laments one studio pro.

With studio marketing budgets ballooning, promotional partners have never been more important.

And big consumer brands are only eager to step up to spend tens of millions over several weeks on top of what the studios are already shelling out. The reason is simple: A tie-in in with a popular tentpole or character will push more product — whether they appear in the films or not.

Consider just some of the deals and their size this summer:

  • Wal-Mart, Burger King, General Mills, Kraft, Comcast, Target, Toys R Us and 7-Eleven, among others, ponied up around $100 million in media, mainly TV spots, to co-promote “Spider-Man 3.”

BK’s campaign lasts for five weeks, General Mills’ effort involves 20 of its brands in 12 categories (its largest movie promo ever) that will put Spidey on 100 million packages, and Kraft’s deal includes 10 of its products, such as Capri Sun, Ritz Bits and Macaroni and Cheese products.

None of the brands are in the film.

  • For “Pirates 3,” Volvo has launched a four-week game online that people in 22 countries can play to find a buried SUV. The automaker did something similar last year around the second installment, but that covered five countries. There’s no fast food partner.

  • A full month before “Transformers” invades theaters July 4, partners Burger King, Mountain Dew and General Motors will launch campaigns that revolve around the film’s shape-shifting robots, with Hasbro rolling out a new line of toys.

  • Shrek is already on packages of Sierra Mist Free, Snickers, M&Ms, Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Pop-Tarts, Cheez-It and Keebler cookies in co-promotions for “Shrek the Third.” Fast-food partner McDonald’s will push the character and film at its restaurants in more than 100 countries.
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