Hollywood set to unleash ads for big game

Hollywood’s returning to the Super Bowl.

After virtually sitting out last year’s game, seven studios have suited up and bought ads to promote their upcoming pics during Super Bowl XLII, set to air Feb. 3 on Fox from Phoenix, Ariz.

At least eight movie promos are planned to air during the broadcast at a record $2.7 million-$3 million per 30-second spot.

Tally means marketing mavens are hoping once again to use the big game as a major promotional platform — and not just for films rolling out into theaters in the following weeks.

Last year, Disney was the only major present with “Wild Hogs” and “Meet the Robinsons,” while the Weinstein Co. and Lionsgate ran ads for “Hannibal Rising” and “Pride,” respectively.

But February’s matchup will see spots for summer tentpoles such as Paramount and Marvel’s superhero entry “Iron Man,” Sony’s Will Smith actioner “Hancock” and Adam Sandler comedy “Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” as well as New Line’s Will Ferrell laffer “Semi-Pro.”

In an unusual move, New Line’s ad is a collaboration with Budweiser; Ferrell will appear in character. The sports comedy, in which he plays a basketball player, owner and coach, bows Feb. 29.

Disney said it was still considering which movies to offer, though “Wall-E,” the next toon from Pixar Animation Studios, is a contender, as is “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.”

Universal, Warner Bros. and Fox also have bought time in the game but declined to disclose which films they would push.

With the game on Fox, network fare such as “American Idol” should be heavily hyped, but the sister film studio’s slate could factor in extensively.

Sitting on the sidelines are DreamWorks and DreamWorks Animation, MGM and United Artists.

While studios typically know which pic they will plug when they buy an ad, a vet of several studio marketing departments notes one pitfall this time of year: “You spend a lot of time dealing with filmmakers and the ‘I want the same toy that the other boy got’ situations. It’s politically delicate to explain to aggressive personalities why it may not always work to be on the game.”

That said, the same insider noted that prime promo opportunities will likely be scarcer than usual if the strike continues, making the mega-rated Bowl a wise bet.

The return of the studios can be attributed in part to Fox rolling out the red carpet for the distribs — quite literally. Ryan Seacrest will host a pregame special in which he will interview stars from the films that purchased ads. The spots also will appear on a special MySpace page as part of the ad buy.

Yet some studios have been skittish to disclose plans either because they don’t want to show their hand to the competish or don’t know which pics to slot in the ad spots they’ve purchased.

Big factor, though, is the rising cost of the ads themselves, which gives marketers pause.

There have been dramatic successes. Fox became the first studio to buy a movie ad in the Super Bowl in 1996 and scored with an “Independence Day” blurb showing the White House blowing up. Previous winners have also included spots for “Armageddon,” “The Matrix” sequels and “War of the Worlds.”

But the investment doesn’t always pay off.

U’s disappointing unveiling of “Hulk” in 2003 was a notorious misfire. (Universal and Marvel wouldn’t say whether they would unveil the new look of the angry green guy for the upcoming redo of “The Hulk,” bowing in summer.)

Last year, the $2 million-plus spent to buy an ad for “Pride” didn’t result in much of a return for Lionsgate; swimming drama earned only $7 million domestically.

Because of such cases, some studios have opted to buy ads during the Super Bowl’s pre- or post-shows, as Paramount is doing with the comedy “Drillbit Taylor.”

Some have opted to roll out trailers during the November or December holidays either in addition to a Super Bowl ad or instead of one. The last week has seen the rollout of trailers for “Speed Racer,” “The Dark Knight,” “Hancock” and “Prince Caspian,” for example.

Still, studios can score with spots in the big game.

Disney did so with “Wild Hogs,” with the laffer earning a surprising $40 million in its opening weekend a month later.

Par and Marvel are looking to make a big splash with “Iron Man” in May and turn the property into a franchise. But the character isn’t as well known as Spider-Man or Batman, so getting a buzzworthy spot in front of the more than 90 million people who watch the Super Bowl each year can only help.

But having the goods to promote is key.

The movie spots must compete with Madison Avenue’s big-budget pushes for everything from beer to pickup trucks.

“Unless you can match up with the Madison Avenue spots, it doesn’t make much sense,” said one senior marketing exec.

“You’ve got to have that wow factor,” said another studio marketing exec. “If you don’t, no one will remember your ad. And then you get the call from your boss asking, ‘Uh, why did we spend all this money?’ ”

(Dade Hayes contributed to this report)

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