Five33 entices majors to take new approach

As more studios move marketing dollars for their tentpoles online, British ad shop Five33 is enticing the majors to take a completely opposite approach: Build high-profile physical displays that entice audiences to fill theater seats.

Company’s latest effort involved the construction of two intricately detailed ship displays for Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

At L.A.’s Hollywood & Highland complex, the film’s villainous Queen Anne’s Revenge crashesthrough the second-story balcony outside the storefront of promo partner Hot Topic and re-creates the deck of the ship down to the hanging metal door handle of Blackbeard’s quarters and the army of skeletons. Inside Paramus, N.J.’s Garden State Plaza, a large ship in a bottle sails the stormy seas. The displays are intricate enough that they could easily be at home at one of the Mouse House’s theme parks once the promotional effort is concluded in six to eight weeks.

The campaign also entailed a full takeover of Hot Topic’s 657 stores, with original costumes and props from the film, window displays, branded giftcards, cast appearances and exclusive merchandise.

With a new office in Venice, Calif., Five33 is essentially exporting what it’s learned over the past four years while designing similar experiential campaigns for Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland,” as well as pop-up stores and experiences for brands such as Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nissan, Reebok and Olympus.

In fact, Disney has grown into a major client for the company, after Five33 created a touring exhibit for “Alice” (with sets, costumes and props) as part of another tie-in with Hot Topic last year; rolled out the lightcycle from “Tron: Legacy”; promoted “Ratatouille” with a giant block of cheese; and designed posters and other materials for “Enchanted” and Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E,” to name a few. Company is now tackling DreamWorks’ robot-boxing tale “Real Steel.”

It’s difficult to say whether Five33′s promos translate into ticket sales (and how much its campaign contributed to the $90 million domestic opening for “Stranger Tides”), but the displays have certainly increased traffic in Hot Topic’s stores and Westfield malls, execs say. Thousands of fans have also taken photos of the displays and posted them on Facebook and Twitter, where they’re seen by millions of others.

With the Hot Topic project, “?’Pirates’ becomes part of everyday chatter,” said Emily Castel, founder and CEO of Five33, which takes its name from the company’s London address. “And any time you’re making a statement, that can make the box office bigger.”

Europeans don’t flock to plexes to nearly the same extent that Americans do, and capturing moviegoer interest there is more difficult than in the U.S. So Five33 has focused on “eventizing” film marketing efforts for its studio clients (which have also included Sony, Fox and Universal) and courting auds — especially teens and young adults — who tend to gravitate toward physical displays they can touch and interact with.

“There are so many movies coming out. What’s going to help you remember them?” Castel said. “You have to communicate the movie magic a lot more (in Europe) — the details and the fantasy. You can’t just put up a cardboard cutout.”

“You have to make it fun for the target audience,” Castel added. “Having fun with a brand is more than buying a product.”

For “Pirates,” that meant building photo ops inside and outside Hot Topic stores, re-creating the decks of the film’s Queen Anne’s Revenge in full detail, with wood, metal and bone-like materials that have visitors cautiously touching the displays, believing it’s the real thing.

With “Alice,” Five33 sent out detailed books-within-a-book to get exhibitors, promotional partners and the press interested in the film before hitting the road with the touring exhibit, which even made it to Comic-Con in San Diego.

“The way Five33 is able to translate what film executives are saying is a remarkable feat,” said John Kirkpatrick, Hot Topic’s chief marketing officer.

That’s largely because, Castel said, “We’re not coming at it from a sales-y perspective. We ask ourselves, ‘What would I want to show my friends?’?”

Both “Pirates” displays have attracted lines of several hundred or more fans, especially during last week’s Pirates Day that Hot Topic promoted to the 4.5 million members of its loyalty program and the 2.5 million 12- to 22-year-olds who visit its website and additional Facebook presence. More than 7,000 showed up for the “Alice” tour, necessitating the hiring of additional Hot Topic staff to deal with the crowds.

Naturally, driving traffic into stores is the point of a retailer’s tie-in with a tentpole.

“This type of thing isn’t done normally,” said Kirkpatrick, who has been high on getting more films into the company’s stores after tie-ins with “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” significantly boosted sales. “We look at everything through the eyes of a fan. When you give them a heightened experience (the ability to interact with the pirate ship or walk past ‘Alice’s’ tea party, for example), it forges a connection. It doesn’t become a store at that point; it becomes a place where they can place themselves in something they love.”

The “Pirates” displays took five months to design and build after 18 months to develop. With the long lead times necessary for such detailed creation, Five33 is now working on large-scale displays for studio titles that will bow in 2013 and 2014.

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