Kavanaugh sees bigger branding in label

When Ryan Kavanaugh bought Rogue Pictures from Universal in January, he knew he was getting a genre label with a small library. What he didn’t realize — at least at first — was the value of the name itself.

While conducting research on his new acquisition, however, he discovered that consumers had much stronger associations with the word “rogue” than the movies released under that banner. This revelation inspired Relativity Media’s CEO to reposition Rogue as an edgy lifestyle brand geared toward 15- to 25-year-olds.

Key to the strategy is social media site iamrouge.com, which is in the early phases of development, and an upcoming clothing line. Kavanaugh envisions the site as a vehicle to give fans direct access to films as they are being made. Filmmakers like Peter Jackson have kept online set diaries before, but Kavanaugh wants that approach to become the norm.

Kavanaugh says fans could provide instant feedback to productions, perhaps saving on reshoots.

“We want to bring consumers into the filmmaking process,” he says. “We want to give them a voice on the set. And we want to let them know they can effectuate change, because at the end of the day we’re making movies for them.”

Besides, he says, brands like TMZ show a real hunger for glimpses of celebrities. Website iamrogue.com will serve up footage of them while they are working, rather than after the fact on the latenight talkshow circuit or when they have ventured out of the house for a cup of coffee.

The site features multiple videos from the set of “The Fighter,” for example. One shows helmer David O. Russell instructing Mark Wahlberg on his boxing moves; another follows Wahlberg to the gym. There are also videos from the set of “Brothers,” the Jim Sheridan movie bowing next month.

The site also serves up trailers, headlines and contests. Lifestyle videos offer tips on ways to adjust to change and get acting roles. It will move into the next phase with the Dec. 4 debut of “Brothers”; Kavanaugh intends to use cross-promotions and marketing for his movies to spotlight the site.

Relativity is busy cooking up other partnerships for the brand. In May, the company forged a marketing alliance with the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. This arrange­ment calls for Rogue rebranding throughout the hotel — its music venue has been redubbed the Rogue Joint; hotel rooms will play Rogue trailers and movies.

Rogue hoodies and T-shirts are also on the way: Kavanaugh says a partnership with an apparel company is in the works.

Rogue movies aren’t exactly blockbusters — “The Last House on the Left,” for example, generated $74 million at the domestic box office, while “A Perfect Getaway” mustered $15.5 million — but Kavanaugh says he’s pleased with their performance overall. Making $5 million or $10 million on a film may be pencil money for Universal, “but for us, that’s substantial,” he says.

As for Rogue the brand: “There’s a long way to go,” Kavanaugh says. “We’re making sure we build the brand in a ‘viral correct’ way. We don’t want to shove it down anyone’s throat.”

The label’s former guardian takes a similar view of Rogue’s progress under Kavanaugh’s ownership.

“I think his ideas are exciting and he’s heading in the right direction,” says Universal prexy and chief operating officer Ron Meyer, whose studio continues to distribute Rogue movies. “But it’s a little early to make any predictions since they haven’t made any films yet.”

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