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Not much froth in film promotion

Starbucks gets cold returns from 'Arctic Tale'

Starbucks said it had learned its lesson when its campaign for Lionsgate’s “Akeelah and the Bee” failed to drum up boffo buzz from its caffeinated customers. But the coffee chain may have stumbled again with Par Classics’ “Arctic Tale,” a pic whose theatrical release certainly needed a jolt in public awareness. Deal could still pay off once pic hits homevid, where Starbucks may prove its true value for Hollywood.

As “Arctic” expanded to 227 theaters last weekend, Variety visited 10 Starbucks stores around Los Angeles to gauge whether the company’s movie marketing efforts have matured as it backs a second pic.

With “Akeelah,” the company randomly placed spelling words and definitions around its stores but didn’t associate the effort with the spelling-bee drama or emphasize its title. Pic earned less than $19 million.

For “Arctic,” the pic’s title is clearly on display — if you look hard enough. But the promo effort is hardly coordinated. Some stores have “Arctic”-branded sleeves for cups while others don’t. The soundtrack is for sale at some spots; others have baskets of plush walruses tucked in corners. Polar bear stickers are randomly placed, making it seem as if a precocious 10-year-old left a mark. The one constant: A small sign near the cashier’s register saying, “Starbucks proudly presents ‘Arctic Tale.’

Landing a promo partner of Starbucks’ size is a coup for a doc, let alone any movie. But when the partner is collecting a piece of the pic’s profits, as Starbucks is, studios shouldn’t be shy about asking for more effort.

As Starbucks promotes more pics, the chain should invest in video screens (rival Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s installed them to show traffic, news and ads) to show footage of the movies it wants customers to see.

The 6,800 Starbucks stores participating in the promo could have offered themed frosty frappuccinos or had baristas wear “Arctic” aprons or give

free tix to drum up more chatter to help pic earn more than the $484,000 collected as of Aug. 23.

Starbucks didn’t want to over-commercialize its tie-in, though. After all, it still embraces the image of a neighborhood coffee shop that wants to help its customers “discover” entertainment rather than force it on them.

Fair enough. But music’s easier to embrace, with tunes heard in stores and CDs picked up and purchased along with grande iced vanilla lattes.

Despite the chilly B.O. bump Starbucks has provided so far, Hollywood should remain warm to the chain: It might help move enough DVDs to make the unusual profit-participating deal a smart move in the long run.

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