'Couples' stars play 'Guitar' in new tie-in

A tie-in with a comedy about couples working out their relationships on a tropical island might not seem like the obvious way to promote a music videogame, but Activision found Universal Pictures’ “Couples Retreat” the perfect opportunity to strum up some buzz for “Guitar Hero 5.”

Universal’s partnerships and licensing group had signed up Anheuser Busch’s Bud Light, Bloomingdale’s, Diageo’s Captain Morgan’s Rum, the Tahiti Tourism Board and Crunch Gym to pony up millions in marketing support for the comedy.

But when Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau wrote “Guitar Hero 5” into the script, making Vaughn a salesman for the game in the film, Activision wound up signing on as well.

“When we heard that Vince’s character is a salesperson of the videogame we laughed hysterically,” said Will Kassoy, senior VP of publishing for “Guitar Hero” at Activision. “We thought it was a perfect way to showcase the new game.”

Vaughn and Favreau, who are fans of the game, wrote a major scene where a character grabs the game’s guitar-shaped controller to compete against a resort staffer in order to move the plot forward.

Activision launched “Guitar Hero 5” last month, and is looking to attract a broader range of gamers to the franchise with its latest installment that boasts new features to make it easier to play.

“Guitar Hero” is facing stiff competition from rival MTV Games and its successful “Rock Band” franchise, which recently released a Beatles edition.

Tie-ins with movies are considered not only a way to get “Guitar Hero” noticed by non-gamers but also to help cement its place in pop culture, said Kassoy, who added that the franchise has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. “Guitar Hero” is “social and accessible and extends beyond the typical videogame category and brings new audiences in.”

In the past, Activision has enlisted filmmakers and celebrities to push the game, with Brett Ratner helming a series of commercials featuring Heidi Klum, “American Idol’s” David Cook and David Archuleta, sports stars Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Phelps strumming the faux guitar in their underwear, mimicking a scene from “Risky Business.” A new spot features Hugh Hefner and Playboy playmates.

To promote the movie, Activision created radio spots that ran for four weeks. It gave away the game and an Xbox 360 in 19 key markets across the country, plus sent winners of a sweepstakes to Jamaica. It also sent messages to the 3 million members of the game’s social network via GuitarHero.com, Facebook and videogame consoles. Another promo involved releasing a three-song download pack of Billy Squier tunes to tie in with its scene in the movie.

In return, Universal promoted the new “Guitar Hero” game across its various marketing materials and gave Activision the clip of its integration in the film to play online or send to members of its social network.

When making promotional deals around films, brands are gambling on how they think a film will perform at the box office.

“Couples Retreat” turned out to be a good bet, earning $34 million during its first weekend.

Favreau is readying “Iron Man 2” for next summer. As was the case with the first pic, the sequel will once again boast its own lineup of marketers who want to tie in with the superhero.

If Iron Man wound up picking up a “Guitar Hero” controller, “we wouldn’t mind,” Kassoy said.

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